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Stevens trial will go on, judge says

The defense wanted the Alaska senator's corruption case thrown out over newly revealed evidence.

October 03, 2008|Richard B. Schmitt | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The judge overseeing the trial of Sen. Ted Stevens blasted the prosecution Thursday for playing a game of "hide the ball" from the defense.

But U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, though visibly angry, refused to grant a defense motion to throw out the charges against the Alaska Republican or declare a mistrial.

Ending a day of drama in which the government was put on the defensive, Sullivan said prosecutors had violated a rule requiring the sharing of exculpatory evidence, in this case dealing with statements by its star witness.

"How can the court have any confidence that the Public Integrity Section has integrity?" Sullivan declared at one point. He was referring to the anti-corruption section of the Justice Department, which is leading the prosecution.

The flap stemmed from an eleventh-hour disclosure Wednesday night by the government of two statements by oilman Bill J. Allen to FBI agents in 2006 and 2007.

Stevens is accused of failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home improvements on Senate disclosure forms. Allen, his longtime friend, is alleged to have given him most of it.

Allen testified this week that he never billed Stevens for thousands of dollars in home repairs, though Stevens had requested invoices for the work on several occasions. Allen testified that he understood from a mutual friend that the requests were a ruse and that Stevens was "just covering his . . . "

Stevens' defense has been that he and his wife paid all of the invoices they received.

The disputed evidence involves earlier statements in which Allen said that Stevens would have paid for the work if he had been billed for it.

Government lawyer Brenda Morris -- while acknowledging an oversight -- said that the statements were similar to others turned over and that they were not inconsistent with the arguments of Stevens' lawyers.

Stevens' lawyer Brendan V. Sullivan Jr. said the episode was one in a series of examples of the government not playing fair in the case. He said that if the information had been available earlier, the defense team would have prepared for the trial and the opening statement differently.

The damage to the Stevens team was not unlike "if you handcuffed me and made me try the case on one leg," defense attorney Sullivan said. He said the judge should dismiss the charges or declare a mistral.

Judge Sullivan declined to do either, but to prevent future snafus he ordered the government to turn over summaries of all interviews with all witnesses as well as full transcripts of their federal grand jury testimony.

"This court has no confidence in the ability of the government to discharge its Brady obligations to either the defendant or the court," the judge said, alluding to the name of a federal rule covering the sharing of evidence.

The trial is to resume Monday.

--

rick.schmitt@latimes.com

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