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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Ted Stevens’ case and the Attorney General

    Barack Obama has a tough job. Timothy Geithner, many business leaders and economists may argue right now, has an even tougher job. However, Eric H. Holder Jr., newly appointed attorney general of the department of justice, might have the toughest job of all.

    Not only must Holder carry out the directives and policies of the Obama administration, but he must also resuscitate a department plagued by the mired and disgraceful legacy left from the previous gang. Holder made a wise decision a few weeks ago to drop all charges against former Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens and focus on more important legal issues.

    Last fall, Stevens was convicted on all charges, seven in total, stemming from his “”now alleged”” acceptance and concealment of thousands of dollars in free home renovations and gifts. However, this was no clear-cut victory for the government. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, the U.S. District Court Judge assigned to hear the case, criticized the prosecution for withholding information that would have proved favorable to the former Senator’s defense. The inept decision-making by the prosecution, in clear disregard of the 1963 Supreme Court ruling of Brady v. Maryland, would eventually doom the government’s case against former Sen. Stevens.

    Early last week, the judge dismissed the charges against Ted Stevens after the government officially dropped its case against him. Part and parcel to this outcome, the lawyers from the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, responsible for trying the case, were booted and swiftly replaced. In the still unfolding aftermath and embarrassment for the Justice Department, Stevens lost his re-election bid in Alaska and the original prosecutors responsible for trying Stevens are themselves now the brunt of inquiry and possible criminal prosecution.

    I am not going to lie; I have no reason to like or dislike Stevens. In all likelihood, being a politician, he probably did misuse his position for personal benefit and accept gifts with no intention of every paying for them. The unsubstantiated evidence, in lieu of the dismissal, ranging from the home renovations, the “”loaned”” chair, etc., were egregious, no doubt; nevertheless, unimportant compared with some of the larger concerns floating around the justice department.

    However, the Ted Stevens case raises a variety of issues beyond the courtroom decisions of Judge Sullivan or even the political career of a now irrelevant senator. Holder is inheriting a justice department in arguably its most precarious position, and sorting a laundry list of legal issues inherited, not necessarily in the pejorative sense, from Michael Mukasey and the Bush administration. Among the most prescient are the legal uncertainties pertaining to the war on terror and immigration. Holder’s decision, although the right one, deferred the question of the public’s confidence in the Justice Department to another day.

    But Holder’s decisive move, a seemingly objective and non-partisan decision, along with the actions of the prosecutors involved in the case, need to be scrutinized. The public’s confidence in tackling the legal challenges and uncertainties of the day will rely on the government’s prosecutors, agents on behalf of the taxpayers, to do no disservice to the judicial process that undermines the interests of those it seeks to serve.

    The integrity and duties of the department of justice cross a sacred threshold in our legal system where the ambition to win cases must be tempered by the personal responsibility and privilege to represent the U.S. government. Being “”out-gunned”” by all-star defense teams or having the uphill battle of proving guilt should never recuse the prosecution of its duties, and in the case of Stevens, not suppress exculpatory evidence. If anything, the resolve and resourcefulness should only embolden those privileged enough to serve.

    Although not encompassing the entire Justice Department, Holder is inheriting a culture in need of a healthy dose of humility and pragmatism. For a man working with lawyers who would probably get paid to argue that the world is flat, he may have to instill in his subordinates that the cost of winning is never worth the trade-off of tarnishing the legacy of the law so celebrated in this country.

    More than anything, the Ted Stevens case has presented Holder with the unique opportunity to demonstrate a new direction and culture in need of a makeover at the Justice Department. With the tough legal issues ahead of him, Holder is charged with the almost insurmountable goal of sorting through and solving not only the legal issues inherited from the Bush administration, but also the legal issues sure to come up during Obama’s years in office.

    The prosecutorial misconduct that in many ways undermines the public’s confidence in the Justice Department, is now a major area Holder must address. Hopefully Holder enjoyed his margarita in Mexico, because the demands made on him and the Justice Department over the coming years will continue to be a sobering reminder of the tough road ahead.

    Paul Cervantes is an accounting and business economics senior. He can be reached at

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