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Start prison term, court tells former Arkansas circuit judge convicted of bribery

by Debra Hale-Shelton | July 18, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.
Former Circuit Judge Michael Maggio

A court ordered former Circuit Judge Michael Maggio on Monday to surrender to federal authorities by Wednesday afternoon to begin serving a 10-year prison sentence for bribery, more than two years after Maggio pleaded guilty.

A short time later, Maggio's attorney asked for more time before Maggio must surrender. Acting U.S. Attorney Patrick Harris said earlier Monday that the prosecution would "vehemently oppose" more delays, and it did.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller gave Maggio until 2 p.m. Wednesday to surrender to the U.S. marshal in downtown Little Rock. "Failure to report as directed will result in a warrant being issued," Miller wrote.

Defense attorney John Wesley Hall asked Miller to delay Maggio's surrender date until July 26 to give Hall time to file a previously planned petition for rehearing in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

On July 3, a three-judge panel of that court upheld Maggio's guilty plea and his prison sentence and, as the prosecution noted Monday, "contemplated that Maggio would be taken into custody in short order."

As of late Monday, Miller had not ruled on the Hall's motion to postpone Maggio's report date. Nor had the appeals court ruled on whether it would grant Hall more time to file a rehearing petition. That petition could ask for the same three-judge panel or the full court to hear Maggio's case. Hall said he had not decided which route to pursue.

The appeals court also had not ruled on whether Hall could wait to file the rehearing request next week instead of Monday, but he said it normally approves such extensions. The prosecution did not object to this request. Hall said he is busy with an unrelated case going to trial today.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has not yet assigned Maggio to a specific prison. Miller agreed last year to recommend that Maggio be incarcerated in the federal prison at Texarkana, Texas, but the decision is up to the bureau.

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In the interim, the U.S. marshal would have Maggio held in the Pulaski County jail or a lockup in Tennessee, Harris said.

The government appointed Hall to represent Maggio after Maggio was declared a "pauper." Hall succeeded attorney James Hensley of Conway, who briefly represented Maggio after disagreements between Maggio and his original attorneys.

Maggio has contended that he was pressured into pleading guilty and has unsuccessfully sought to withdraw his plea.

Asked if past decisions involving Maggio and other attorneys were hampering his ability to represent Maggio as well as he might wish, Hall recently said they were. "I'm good, but I'm not a miracle worker," Hall said.

Maggio, who turned 56 on Sunday, was a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit when questions surfaced about thousands of dollars that nursing-home owner Michael Morton of Fort Smith gave to several political action committees. Morton said he intended for the money to go to Maggio's judicial campaign for a state appellate court seat, and some of it later did.

In a plea agreement in January 2015, Maggio admitted lowering a Faulkner County jury's $5.2 million judgment in a negligence lawsuit against a Morton-owned Greenbrier nursing home to $1 million in exchange for indirect contributions to his campaign for the appeals court.

That agreement also implicated Morton and lobbyist and fundraiser Gilbert Baker, though not by name. Baker and Morton have denied wrongdoing but have said they believe the government was referring to them in that agreement. They have not been charged with a crime.

In September 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered Maggio removed from office over unrelated and wide-ranging online comments he made about such topics as women, divorce, sex, bestiality and race. He had already withdrawn from the judicial campaign.

In asking that Maggio get more time before going to prison, Hall gave a preview of his arguments for a rehearing on the appeal.

Hall said the U.S. Supreme Court agreed this year to hear a case involving the issue of whether a guilty plea in itself waives a defendant's right to challenge the constitutionality of his statute of conviction. Hall said that decision came down in late February, two weeks before Maggio's case was argued before the federal appeals panel.

Hall also cited "the ripple effect" of another Supreme Court ruling that he said has narrowed the term "official act" in public corruption cases.

One of the issues in Maggio's appeal has been whether he was an "agent of the state" when he was a judge. Maggio has sought to dispute or attack the relevance of a stipulation he made in the plea agreement that he was an "agent of the state." That fact was one factor that allowed the government to prosecute Maggio under a federal bribery statute -- 18 U.S. Code 666.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters countered in the government's response Monday that the 8th Circuit "has already addressed and rejected Maggio's arguments."

Peters said the 8th Circuit has previously ruled that for a convicted person to be released while pursuing appeals, a court must find that the issue on appeal raises such a "substantial question of law or fact" that the ultimate result will likely be a reversal, a new trial or a sentence reduction.

"Because Maggio cannot demonstrate a 'substantial question of law or fact' ... Maggio has not met his burden of establishing that he is entitled to release pending appeal, and he should proceed directly to jail on Wednesday," she wrote.

A Section on 07/18/2017

Print Headline: Start prison term, court tells Maggio; Ex-judge facing 10 years for bribery

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