Ken Connor

Many justice-hungry conservatives are angered at the recent dismissal of ex-Senator Ted Stevens's conviction for lying about gifts he received while in office. Conservatives are fierce in their defense of law and order. They believe in strong, swift justice. To see Stevens get off on "legal technicalities" appears to be a miscarriage of justice, but, in this instance, conservatives ought to be concerned about the great principles of justice at stake.

In October, Senator Stevens was convicted of seven counts of lying about roughly $250,000 in gifts he received while in office, including renovations to his home in Alaska. A key ingredient of the prosecution's case was the testimony of Bill Allen, a friend of Stevens who declared that another friend told him to ignore Stevens's request to pay for the remodeling of his home. According to Allen, this friend said, "Bill, don't worry about getting a bill... Ted is just covering his [expletive]."

This testimony was damning evidence which suggested that the Senator's insistence that he tried to pay for the renovations was empty rhetoric. Unbeknownst to the defense, however, Allen's testimony was inconsistent with prior statements he had made to prosecutors. Prosecution notes of an interview prior to the trial showed Allen had said that he did not recall any conversation about sending the Senator a bill. These inconsistent statements were damaging to the prosecution's case, and prosecutors did not disclose them to the defense as required by law. Stevens was convicted in October, and lost his Senate race in November. Convicted felons don't typically fare well in electoral contests.

Upon learning of the inconsistent statements, Stevens's lawyer Brendan ("I am not a potted plant!") Sullivan—the scrappy lawyer who successfully defended Oliver North—asked the court to dismiss the charges against Stevens. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan obliged and appointed an independent counsel to investigate the prosecutors for possible misconduct. The judge declared, "In 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct that I have seen in this case." Judge Sullivan was right to take a hard line on the prosecution's deception. Stevens may have deserved his conviction, but no conviction based on deception can possibly be called just.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.