WASHINGTON - Testy lawyers on Friday battled over what to call Sen. Ted Stevens' house, what pictures jurors will see of that house and how documents are being shared between sides as the Alaska legend's corruption trial nears.
Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican, is scheduled to stand trial in two weeks on charges of lying in Senate disclosure records about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations he received from VECO Corp., an oil pipeline services company. VECO Corp. is now owned by Denver-based CH2M Hill.
Stevens, 84, has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts and has pushed to get his trial completed before Alaskans vote Nov. 4 on his re-election. Jury selection begins Sept. 22.
Defense lawyers indicated they will likely challenge some of the thousands of pictures the Justice Department took of Stevens' house in Girdwood, Alaska, a ski resort town outside Anchorage, which the indictment said the senator often referred as "the chalet."
"We think some were taken with wide angle lenses that distort the size of the home," said Stevens' lawyer Robert Cary, who noted that real estate agents often do the same thing to sell houses.
"It's a modest cabin in Alaska," Cary added.
"A modest chalet?" U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan said.
Prosecutor Brenda Morris pointed out that the government didn't call it a chalet; Stevens did. "It was a modest cabin," but the work expanded it into a ski chalet, Morris said. "We didn't take any pictures to make it look more than what it is," she said.
Stevens' lawyers complained to Sullivan in a hastily called hearing that prosecutors were giving them evidence on compact discs in a form they couldn't easily use to prepare for the trial. Prosecutors said they gave defense lawyers everything they were required to, and all Stevens' lawyers had to do is give them a call instead of calling the judge.
"We've tried hard to keep these disputes from the court," Stevens' lawyer Alex G. Romain said.
"You should have tried harder," Sullivan responded, ordering the Justice Department to turn over all of its evidence on paper instead of on disk.
Morris complained that the Justice Department shouldn't have to drop everything and rush to court just because Stevens' lawyers have a problem. "Just because he has 'U.S. senator' in front of his name doesn't mean we have to drink from the fire hose every time they call," Morris said.
"This defendant is not being treated different than anyone else," replied Sullivan, who noted that no other trials had been forcibly rescheduled because Stevens requested a speedy trial.