Alabama Scene

In contempt of justice



Last month, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld a judge’s contempt order against two Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers who participated in the failed prosecution of the late Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska in 2009.

William Welch II and Brenda Morris, the lead prosecutors in the case, were held in contempt along with another Justice Department official for violating a court order to turn over documents to Stevens’s defense team. The prosecutors disclosed the information soon after they were held in contempt, but U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan didn’t lift the contempt finding until over a year later.

In a separate matter, a court-appointed lawyer investigating the Stevens prosecution found that federal prosecutors engaged in “systematic concealment” of evidence in the case. The charges against Stevens were eventually dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Sound familiar? It should, because the same Brenda Morris who was charged with contempt for hiding evidence in the bungled Stevens case was one of the lead government lawyers in the so-called Alabama bingo corruption trial which ended last year with zero convictions on the 138 federal charges and the full acquittal of two of the nine defendants. A retrial is scheduled Jan. 30 on 33 counts left undecided by the jury.

Now we learn that the federal prosecution’s penchant for attempting to suppress evidence may not have stopped in Alaska. Lawyers for Milton McGregor have asked for a hearing requesting that two bribery charges against him should be tossed because government lawyers illegally suppressed evidence during the first trial last summer.

In a motion filed last week, McGregor’s lawyers said that federal prosecutors asked jurors to make inferences that the prosecutors themselves knew were based on the suppressed information, and not accurate.

The 28-page motion, including exhibits, is confined to allegations that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence in his first trial and then violated due process by making “arguments for inferences that they knew to be false.”

McGregor’s lead attorney, Joe Espy, alleges prosecutors purposefully withheld testimony because it contradicted the bribery charges involving McGregor and former legislative analyst Ray Crosby, who worked for the Legislature and drafted the legislation.

Lawmakers have the authority to authorize their employees to work with lobbyists or attorneys on legislation and help make subsequent changes to legislation. Crosby was authorized to work with McGregor, along with his attorney and lobbyists, on gambling legislation in 2010.

Prosecutors, to the contrary, argued that it was corrupt for the legislative staff to make changes in proposals at the request of McGregor or those working for him without written authorization.

They also argued that Crosby received payments from McGregor in exchange for altering the bill in ways that favored the casino owner. Espy says, however, that they presented evidence showing that Crosby had also done work on proposals that would have been financially harmful to McGregor.

“We now know that the Justice Department knew the falsity of its position on these things, by virtue of government employee interviews… before the first trial ever began,” according to Espy. The motion calls the government’s conduct “highly inappropriate.” Why has lead prosecutor resigned?

Meanwhile, Justin Shur, the lead prosecutor in the case and deputy chief of DOJ’s Public Integrity Section, suddenly resigned under mysterious circumstances. There are those in Montgomery, including this writer, who subscribe to the theory he was fired or there was an unmistakable inference at the DOJ that he should resign. He spent four years at the department. Shur announced he was taking a position at a Washington law firm.

Espy said Shur’s withdrawal came as a surprise because Shur was active in the preparations for the retrial until a few days ago. The Justice Department has declined to respond.

One of those acquitted, State Sen. Quinton Ross of Montgomery, says he’s glad to see Shur go. “After two months and millions of dollars spent, the federal prosecutors failed to get a single conviction and the case is still under the cloud of prosecutorial misconduct. How long are they going to spend taxpayer’s money to rob us of the justice that money is supposed to provide?” he said.

Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: