The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee today heard from the Special Counsel who conducted a court ordered investigation into misconduct in the 2008 trial of former Senator Ted Stevens. Henry Schuelke’s 500-page report detailing that misconduct was released to the public earlier this month. In it, he describes how federal prosecutors intentionally concealed key information from Steven’s defense team, in violation of their Brady disclosure obligation. Schuelke told the Judiciary Committee today that those failings were likely motivated by one thing.
“I think that motive, to win the case, was the principal operative motive. I do not believe that any of the prosecutors harbored a personal animus towards Senator Stevens. I don’t believe either of them sought fame and glory and that’s the reason they wanted to win the case, that’s just not in their personalities in my judgment. They did however want to win the case,” Schuelke said.
Schuelke says poor supervision of the prosecution team and the “compressed schedule” leading up to the trial also contributed to unintentional misconduct in the trial. Senator Lisa Murkowski has introduced a bill that would establish a nationwide standard for disclosing important evidence to defendants in federal court. Right now, prosecutors have to turn over evidence they determine is “material” to the defense. Murkowski’s law would compel prosecutors to turn over all evidence. The Justice Department doesn’t support the bill, saying it has already made sweeping reforms in the wake of the Stevens case. U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois made the case for the new law.
“If we are really serious about avoiding this in the future, don’t we have to go further than to trust the instincts of the department of justice and prosecutors across America? Don’t we have to enshrine in the law some basic protection of the criminal defendant when it comes to this disclosure?,” Durbin said.
Senator Murkowski submitted written testimony to the Judiciary Committee. She asked the Committee to schedule a hearing for her bill and wrote that Schuelke’s report, “chronicles what I believe will be recorded by history among the darkest moments in the Justice Department’s 223 year history.” Ted Stevens lost his reelection bid one week after being convicted of failing to report gifts on Senate disclosure forms. The verdict was thrown out five months later when the prosecutors’ misconduct surfaced.