Judge drops contempt charge against Justice attorney in Stevens case

Posted: Monday, February 16, 2009

WASHINGTON - A federal judge dropped contempt charges Saturday against a Justice Department attorney after concluding he was not responsible for the government's failure to deliver documents to former Sen. Ted Stevens' legal team.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan issued the order releasing Kevin Driscoll, the newest member of the Justice Department's prosecution team in the case. It came one day after Sullivan angrily held Driscoll and three of his colleagues in contempt, calling it "outrageous" that government attorneys would ignore his Jan. 30 deadline for turning over documents.

"Mr. Driscoll did not sign the relevant pleadings, has not filed an appearance in this case, and appears to have been brought in by his supervisors only recently" for the limited purpose of addressing a separate issue, according to Sullivan.

Still being held in contempt are William Welch, chief of the public integrity section, his principal deputy Brenda Morris, and Patty Merkamp Stemler, chief of the Justice Department's appellate section.

Last month, Sullivan ordered the Justice Department to provide the agency's internal communications regarding a whistle-blower complaint brought by an FBI agent involved in the investigation into the former Alaska senator. The agent, Chad Joy, objected to Justice Department tactics during the trial, including failure to turn over evidence and an "inappropriate relationship" between the lead agent on the case and the prosecution's star witness.

Stevens was convicted last October of lying on Senate disclosure documents about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from an Alaska businessman. In November, Stevens lost his bid for re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1968.

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