The Stevens Standard Brings Accountability to Federal Prosecutors

Tuesday - 4/14/2009, 7:03am EDT

Lurita Doan

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Long-overdue, corrective action for prosecutorial misconduct is finally happening. Federal judges are getting tough with the Justice Department's sloppy and, oftentimes, vindictive prosecutions.

Judge Emmet Sullivan, who presided over the government's botched persecution of former Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), finally got fed up with prosecutor abuses and not only threw out the case against Stevens, but then, wisely, launched a criminal contempt investigation against half a dozen federal prosecutors, calling their actions "shocking and disturbing."

Judge Sullivan's new "Stevens Standard" will serve the nation well as federal agents, investigators and prosecutors are now officially on notice that abuses and misconduct will no longer be tolerated. In lambasting Justice's Public Integrity Section for misconduct, Judge Sullivan called attention to the fact that prosecutor abuses and tainted investigations have become common. Nor is he the only judge to voice this opinion.

Judge Alan Gold of Miami recently issued a 50 page criticism and $600,000 fine because the prosecutors exhibited a "win at all costs pattern of behavior" and withheld evidence. Four other federal judges have made similar statements and have dismissed cases, citing government prosecutors' disturbing tendencies to withhold key evidence, and tendencies to deliberately shape the facts to paint a false picture.

The core problem is that some federal prosecutors and investigators, anxious to advance their own careers, are often caught up in the high profile cases. They often forget their Constitutional requirement to uncover the truth. And, instead they often go after the person. They often get wrapped up in the press coverage and become more anxious to spin the media than to uncover the facts and get to the truth.

The oversight community doesn't always seem interested in uncovering the truth, but, rather, are often pursuing a much different agenda. Nor should this be a surprise. During the past few years, we have seen several high profile cases involving prosecutors, such as Mr. Nifong, and attorneys general, such as Eliot Spitzer, or Special Counsels such as Scott Bloch, that seem to have grossly misused their powers to intimidate, harass and falsely persecute others.

We have seen sensationalized allegations, skillfully leaked to sympathetic media, and salient facts suppressed or simply deleted from government files when that, too, was convenient. Worse yet, accountability rarely extended over these investigators and misdeeds were ignored. In cases such as Scott Bloch, Eliot Spitzer or Mike Nifong, they were allowed to cause damage, then, allowed to disappear, leaving a cornucopia of chaos, damaged reputations and unsubstantiated allegations remaining in their wake.

The damage caused by feckless oversight and prosecutors has been high. In Washington, the scenario, in which a prosecutorial entity deliberately targets a high level political person, to advance a political agenda, has become all too common. Chummy relationships, with members of Congress as allies, sheltered federal investigators from effective oversight and accountability which allowed federal agents to pursue vendettas, play fast and loose with the facts, and yet never face accountability.

Consider the case of Scott Bloch who previously led the Office of Special Counsel. Block was allowed to dictate personal agendas that his staff was required to obey blindly for years, and calls for his removal were ineffective. When finally questioned by Congress, Bloch ordered an outfit call "Geeks on Call" to perform a 7 level wipe of government computers in his office and home to delete critical government files that might have revealed his abuses.

Undaunted, he then was caught altering official reports, making selective leaks to the media, and even went so far as to direct other government employees to make anonymous postings on blogs, on government time, in what one level-headed Congressman noted was "an unlawful propaganda campaign". Rather incredibly, Bloch was allowed to slink away, and was never charged with any crime or misconduct.

These kinds of transgressions might seem business as usual. But, trust me on this: when you are the target of this sort of abuse, deliberate distortions, and a propaganda campaign by a federal prosecutor to impugn your character, you can better appreciate the importance of the new "Stevens Standard".

More importantly, the new "Stevens Standard" that will now hold federal prosecutors fully accountable for misconduct will come as welcome relief to other federal employees who understand too well that prosecutors and investigators do not necessarily have to play by the rules, or follow the same set of procedures and conduct that are applicable to all other federal employees.

Indeed, thanks to the new "Stevens Standard", federal investigators and prosecutors are going to be forced to get back to their primary job of finding the truth. Let's also thank Judge Sullivan for speaking out and taking the strong actions needed to correct this long festering problem.