Prosecutors' careers 'annihilated' after misconduct in Ted Stevens case

Monday - 4/2/2012, 5:14pm EDT

Stephen Ryan, government strategies lead attorney, McDermott, Will and Emery

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By Gillian Brockell
Federal News Radio

Although criminal charges are unlikely, the fallout from the Sen. Ted Stevens case will have long-lasting and far-reaching effects in the Department of Justice, said former prosecutor Stephen Ryan on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Federal staff prosecutors have been harshly criticized in a 500-page report by a special investigator. Prosecutors were so focused on convicting the former Alaska senator that they illegally withheld evidence that would have cleared his name, the report said.

Ryan, the government strategies lead attorney at McDermott, Will and Emery and a former federal prosecutor, agreed that an emphasis on winning caused "young" prosecutors to lose sight of their obligation to justice.

"It's a lonely feeling to walk back into the Justice office having lost a case. That's the pressure that was discussed in the 500-page report: the pressure to win versus your duty," he said.

The case was so badly mishandled that Attorney General Eric Holder was forced to ask the court to vacate the 2008 corruption conviction. Stevens died in a plane crash in 2010 before the conviction was thrown out.

Prosecutors in the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice violated two rules: the Brady rule, which requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence, and the Jencks Act, which requires prosecutors to turn over all witness statements to the defense, Ryan said.

And although it's unlikely the prosecutors involved will face criminal charges, their careers "could be destroyed, annihilated in a single case," Ryan said, adding that one of the prosecutors involved had committed suicide.

The Public Integrity Section, which is responsible for prosecuting public officials, has itself suffered several black marks on its record in recent years, the Stevens case foremost among them.

"I think there's probably a lot of activity going on behind the scenes to cleanse the Public Integrity Section," Ryan said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who was a friend of Stevens, has also introduced legislation that would tighten the reins on prosecutorial discretion in the future. The bill has garnered bipartisan support.