Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Prosecution to Nowhere

Ten Stevens is off the hook--except for his reputation and obviously his seat in the U.S. Senate. A criminal verdict against the big-spending former senator from Alaska who achieved some notoriety for the infamous "bridge to nowhere" was thrown out by a federal judge on grounds of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate.

To the average American, Stevens is not particularly a sympathetic figure. He seemed arrogant and way out of touch and probably should have not run for reelection in the first place. But his (or anyone else's) reelection should never have been sabotaged by trumped-up charges of malfeasance. His conviction on seven felony counts shortly before the 2008 election caused the safe Republican seat to fall to a Democrat by a few thousand votes. In other words, even with a rap sheet, Stevens almost pulled it off. While nominally under the Bush administration, career civil service federal prosecutors handled (or mishandled) the case in a way that appears to have a political motivation (i.e., pushing the Democrats closer to a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate).
A federal judge has dismissed corruption charges against former Sen. Ted Stevens and opened a criminal investigation into prosecutors who mishandled the case.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said the misconduct was the most serious he has ever seen in nearly 25 years on the bench. He appointed attorney Henry Schulke as special prosecutor to investigate the Justice Department team for possible criminal contempt charges.
Sullivan made the unusual move Tuesday [April 7] shortly before dismissing corruption charges against Stevens. Stevens was convicted in October of seven counts of lying about gifts he received from wealthy friends.
"In nearly 25 years on the bench, I've never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I've seen in this case," U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said in the opening moments of a hearing.
Sullivan read a stinging summary of the many times the government withheld evidence or mishandled witnesses in the case.
Stevens was convicted of lying on Senate financial forms about gifts he received from wealthy friends. But Attorney General Eric Holder asked that the case be dismissed, saying Stevens did not receive a fair trial.
Stevens narrowly lost re-election just days later, falling to Democrat Mark Begich. He had been in the Senate 40 years, making him the longest-serving Republican senator when he was defeated.
This outcome is yet another reaffirmation that partisan politics should never be "criminalized" (on civil side, an example of judicial partisanship is the ongoing mishandling of Minnesota's U.S. Senate election recount in which a three-judge panel has decided to count only some of the absentee ballots). Alaska Gov. Palin has called for a new election, but there is no mechanism in the law to compel that to happen.

Update: This is a very bad idea!