Ex-Circuit Judge Maggio pleads guilty to federal bribery count

Mike Maggio

A former circuit judge in Faulkner County who was removed from office last year has entered a guilty plea to a federal count of bribery, the First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas said Friday.

Michael Maggio, 53, entered the guilty plea before U.S. District Chief Judge Brian Miller on Friday, acknowledging he accepted a bribe in the form of a campaign contribution in exchange for reducing a jury's negligence verdict against a Conway business, officials said.

Maggio faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. A sentencing hearing hasn't yet been scheduled.

Maggio was running for the Arkansas Court of Appeals at the time he accepted the contribution, but he later bowed out of that race while apologizing for inappropriate comments he made in an online forum.

He first came under fire beginning in March 2014, when he was revealed as the poster who anonymously made the comments, including posts violating the confidentiality afforded to actress Charlize Theron in her adoption case, and comments about sex acts, bestiality and divorce.

Soon after those revelations, questions arose about contributions Maggio's campaign accepted from several political action committees financed largely by businessman and nursing-home owner Michael Morton, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has reported.

Days after some of those donations were made, Maggio reduced a jury-awarded $5.2 million judgment against one of Morton's nursing homes to $1 million.

Court papers didn't identify Morton by name. But the documents did describe the person who made the contribution as an "Individual A" who was a "stockholder in numerous nursing homes" including in Faulkner County. A plea agreement also said Maggio accepted the payment "in return for being influenced to and induced to remit a $5.2 million judgment in a civil case to $1 million."

"As part of his plea, Maggio admitted that his decision to remit the judgment was improperly influenced by the donations that his campaign received from the business owner," First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick C Harris said in a statement. "Maggio further acknowledged that he attempted to delete text messages between the campaign fundraiser and himself after the contributions from the business owner were disclosed by the media."

After he apologized for the online posts and withdrew from the race, the state Supreme Court relieved Maggio of his caseload, noting the "orderly administration of justice" had been "severely compromised."

Maggio in August 2014 agreed to sanctions that suspended him from office with pay and barred him from ever holding judicial office again when his term finished at the end of the year. The Arkansas Supreme Court removed him from office the next month.

See Saturday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full coverage.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed the source of information from the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas. It was provided by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick C. Harris.