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Alaska editorial: Darn tootin' it's public

Posted: February 16, 2012 - 12:11am

This editorial first appeared in the Ketchikan Daily News:

Interesting, isn’t it, how a quartet of unelected lawyers don’t want details of their own professional conduct to be made public, yet were willing to drag an elected icon through the mud — conveniently just before an election?

(Interesting, too, that then-convicted Sen. Ted Stevens held a lead on election night and was within a hair’s breadth of maintaining the seat many of his constituents were confident he filled with honor.)

Chutzpah element aside, it’s true: Four of the federal prosecutors — subjects of a two-and-a-half year investigation by a special prosecutor — would prefer that we not be privy to the pesky details of their own behavior. Judge Emmet Sullivan described that behavior as “significant prosecutorial misconduct in a highly publicized investigation and prosecution brought by the Public Integrity Section against an incumbent United States Senator.

“The government’s ill-gotten verdict in the case not only cost that public official his bid for re-election, the results of that election tipped the balance of power in the United States Senate.”

The Anchorage Daily News reports that — in his decision denying their request to keep the report secret — Judge Sullivan also wrote that the prosecution team had “repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and zealously defended the guilty verdict.”

That “ill-gotten verdict” since has been tossed out.

“To deny the public access to Mr. Schuelke’s report under the circumstances of this case would be an affront to the First Amendment and a blow to the fair administration of justice,” the judge wrote, according to the Anchorage Daily News report.

Hear, hear.

The investigation originally involved six attorneys: Joseph Bottini, James Goeke, Nicholas Marsh, Brenda Morris, Edward Sullivan, and William Welch. Marsh committed suicide in 2010.

Two objected to the release, while two others moved to permanently seal the report. Alas, the names of those four are blacked out of the judge’s ruling — so all are tarred with the brush of self-serving secrecy.

Judge Sullivan wrote that the report would help the public understand why the feds didn’t seek criminal charges against the prosecutors involved. We’ll be interested in reading up on that ourselves, knowing that our government spent close to $2 million defending their behavior.

Would your employer spend $400,000 each defending you and four of your colleagues, if, in the course of performing your job, you’d broken his rules, irretrievably wrecked someone’s career and damaged the employer’s reputation? Not if your employer couldn’t print money, he wouldn’t. (And even if he could print money — should he defend that sort of behavior on his behalf?)

After all that, we deserve to know specifics of what these zealots did in their quest to smear a senator and change the U.S. Senate. Special prosecutor Harry Schuelke in his report “described ... widespread and sometimes intentional misconduct by Justice Department attorneys,” the Daily News reported.

Those who wield the power of the U.S. government rightly are held to a higher standard than your average just-trying-to-do-my-job Joe. Most government employees embrace our trust and try to live up to it. Those who become bullies, if they can’t be punished, at least need to be identified and the details of their perfidy made public. That report will be released March 15. We plan to read it, and hope other Alaskans will do likewise.

Right call, Judge Sullivan. Thank you.

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