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The System can Be Unfair!

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Thursday, August 11th, 2010

Baton Rouge, Louisiana



Former Senator Ted Stevens was able to weather a number of difficult challenges in his life, but the clock finally ran out on the 86 year old Alaskan.   He had survived an earlier plane crash in his home state that caused the death of his wife back in 1972. And the federal government did its best (or maybe it’s worst) in trying to destroy his political career in a most unsavory way.  But the southwestern Alaska wilderness took its toll, and a second plane crash took his life on a rocky mountainside this week.

Four of the nine passengers on the plane survived.  One of those who made it is the former Chancellor of LSU here in my hometown of Baton Rouge.  I have known Sean O’Keefe and his family for more than 40 years, and it was a miracle that both he and his son Kevin survived the disaster. He is in critical condition in an Anchorage hospital, and you can imagine the deep interest and concern being expressed throughout my community.

Stevens was a giant in the U.S. Senate, having served in that body for some 40 years.  His pre-senate service was exemptlatory, having graduated from Harvard law school, and he was awarded two distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals for his valiant service during World War II.  Few members of congress today have any military background and make up what those who have served call the “chicken hawk caucus.”  He became a federal prosecutor and was active in the effort to make Alaska the 49th state back in 1959.

He survived his first plane crash in 1978 in a twin-engine Leer jet when it crashed on a flight from the Capital, Juneau, to the Anchorage Airport. Alaska has by far more air crashes than any other state.  Many of us here in Louisiana still remember the loss of Louisiana Congressman and House Majority leader Hale Boggs, who died in a 1972 plane crash along with Alaska Congressman Nick Begich.  Ironically, Begich’s son defeated Stevens in a 2008 election that took place just days after Stevens was convicted of filing false financial reports with the Senate.

It was obvious to close observers of the case that the trial date was pushed by prosecutors so as to tip the balance of the close election.  Stevens was defeated, but a few months later, guess what? The conviction was thrown out by the trial judge, who ordered an investigation of the handling of the case by the Justice Department. The judge summed up his conclusions of the Justice’s Department’s actions by saying:  In nearly 25 years on the bench, I have never seen anything approaching the mishandling and misconduct I have seen in this case.”

After Stevens was convicted, an FBI whistle blower came forward and charged that prosecutors intentionally presented false and misleading testimony and evidence, and withheld critical and exculpatory information from the defense.  The key witness against Stevens gave a completely different statement to the FBI before the case went to trial that contradicted his trial testimony.  But the prosecutors failed to turn over the statement, even though they were required to do so by law.

Steven’s conviction was thrown out, but the Feds got what they wanted in destroying his career. The Stevens case is one of many examples of why there should be no legal immunity for obvious acts of contempt and criminal abuse of the judicial process by federal prosecutors. If there is any doubt in your mind as to whether this kind of prosecutorial misconduct takes place regularly in the federal court system, I would urge you to read my book, “Justice Denied,” published by the Lisburn Press.

On a much happier note, it would seem to be a miracle that Sean O’Keefe and his son survived such a catastrophe.  The floatplane involved in the crash was flying in heavy rain and unnoticed by radar.  The plane hit the side of a mountain with such force that a 300 foot gash was torn into the rock wall, crushing the nose of the plane. The few like O’Keefe who survived sat severely injured inside the fuselage along with the dead for 12 hours until help arrived.

O’Keefe was a likeable but controversial chancellor at LSU during his tenure from 2005 until 2008. The O’Keefe family was a political dynasty in New Orleans for over 50 years dating back to his great-grandfather and former New Orleans Mayor Arthur O’Keefe.  He had served as the Secretary of the Navy as well as the head of NASA.  I thought he was an excellent choice when he was picked to head Louisiana’s flagship as Chancellor. LSU was massively underfunded, and still has one of the lowest endowments of any major university in America.  He told me his mission was to make a dramatic push for more private sector funding, and he was well suited for the job.

Fundraising requires a lot of travel, and he received parochial criticism from within the university community for not being more hands-on in the university’s daily operations. His goal was to raise money and he was well on the way until the criticism mounted from within. He was convinced that a major endowment effort would attract better students and professors. But the internal politics and legislative medaling, always a yoke around the university, wore him down.  He continues to profess his love for LSU, and the state is the loser for the loss of his presence.

As of now, it looks like Sean O’Keefe and son will survive. Here’s hoping he eventually comes back to Louisiana. Sen. Ted Stevens was not so fortunate. If the Justice Department had played fair and followed the rules of disclosure, Stevens would no doubt have been re-elected and back in congress that is meeting in Washington all this week.  If the rules had been followed, if there had been no prosecutorial misconduct, if fairness had prevailed, if justice had not been denied, Ted Stevens could well be alive today.


“It is just as well that justice is blind; she might not like some of the things done in her names if she could see them.”Â Â  –Anonymous

Peace and Justice

Jim Brown

Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South.  You can read all is past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownla.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownla.com. The show is televised at http://www.justin.tv/jimbrownusa.

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