Judge Rejects Stevens’ Bid to Dismiss Case

Posted September 16, 2008 at 6:33pm

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’ (R) assertion that his indictment violates the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause and refused to dismiss the case less than a week before a trial is scheduled to begin.

[IMGCAP(1)]Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false statements to conceal the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company over an eight-year period. He has pleaded not guilty.

A trial is set to begin Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Stevens’ attorneys had sought to dismiss the case, asserting that the indictment included allegations the Senator used his official position on behalf of the oil services firm VECO — including accusations that Stevens assisted the company with obtaining federal grants — and therefore violated the Speech or Debate Clause, which protects lawmakers from prosecution for their legislative activities.

Judge Emmet Sullivan sided with government prosecutors Tuesday, stating that while Stevens’ action on behalf of VECO qualify as “official acts,” those activities did not cross into the arena of official legislative action.

In a brief opposing Stevens’ motion, federal prosecutor Brenda Morris wrote: “As the Supreme Court explained in United States v. Brewster … a Senator’s acts are not privileged simply because they relate to his office or have some nexus to it.

“Rather, the Speech or Debate privilege will not apply unless the acts at issue rise beyond the merely official or political (e.g., agreeing with a private person to vote for legislation) and qualify for the much narrower category of truly legislative action (e.g., actually voting on a bill.),” she added.

Stevens had also argued that the grand jury that issued his indictment had been “tainted by evidence in violation” of the clause.

While Sullivan ruled that “a handful of documents may implement speech or debate concerns,” those items are not significant enough to prompt the dismissal of the case.

In addition, Sullivan approved a motion by federal prosecutors to introduce evidence at trial related to solicitations that VECO and its executives made to Stevens and his staff, as well as actions taken by Stevens in response to those requests.

Government attorneys have asserted that, although Stevens has not been charged with bribery in the case, the solicitations are necessary to illustrate his motives.