Evidence files unwieldy, Sen. Stevens' lawyers complain

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens' legal team complained Friday that government lawyers had given them unwieldy electronic versions of more than 15,000 potential pieces of evidence in the Alaska Republican's corruption trial.

Now, they'll be flooded with paper.

A federal judge ordered that government lawyers turn over nearly everything on paper, too, so that Stevens' lawyers can have it in a more workable format this weekend in time to prepare for the senator's Sept. 24 trial.

"You'd have the same complaints if they gave you that information (in the same way), the same complaints," U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan told Justice Department prosecutors Friday during an emergency hearing called just a few hours before it began.

Stevens, 84, faces seven felony counts of knowingly taking home repairs and gifts worth more than $250,000 from the now-defunct oil-services company Veco Corp., and failing to report them on his annual Senate disclosure forms. Jury selection is set to begin Sept. 22.

In their motion, filed Friday morning, Stevens lawyers Alex Romain and Robert Cary complained that the government's "gamesmanship and 'hide-the-ball tactics' undermine the fairness of the upcoming trial."

Their specific complaint was that the government produced 15,038 pages without "load files," the electronic equivalent of staples, paper clips and folders. There's no way to differentiate where one document begins and ends, they complained.

They also were concerned that some electronic files were "locked," which means they cannot be searched electronically. To find a specific document in a 1,608-page electronic file taken from Veco computers, they must read the whole thing because they cannot search it by keyword.

Prosecutors were clearly frustrated with Stevens' lawyers, although they stopped short of using the "gamesmanship" language employed by the defense team. His lawyers' concerns could all have been addressed without the emergency hearing, argued Brenda Morris, the lead federal prosecutor.

"Just because he has 'U.S. senator' before his name doesn't mean we have to drink out of a fire hose every time they call us," she said.

Not so fast, scolded Sullivan. Stevens is getting the same deference all defendants get in his courtroom, Sullivan said, although the senator's request for an expeditious trial has moved things at a brisker pace than many trials.

"This defendant's not being treated any differently than anyone else," Sullivan said. "No other cases have been moved. I wouldn't do that for anyone. I wouldn't do that for anyone because of their status."

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