Former Circuit Judge Michael Maggio has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review his federal bribery conviction, contending his first attorneys "badgered" him into pleading guilty and saying federalism needs "some limits."
Maggio began serving a 10-year prison sentence in July after the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused to overturn his conviction, which resulted from a plea agreement in January 2015.
"He wants his guilty plea set aside, despite his admissions in the plea [hearing], because he can explain them away and already has," Maggio's government-appointed attorney, John Wesley Hall, argued in a petition to the Supreme Court.
Hall said it could be about six weeks from Oct. 5, the date the request was filed, before he knows whether the court will consider the case. If there is no response from the U.S. solicitor general by then, such cases sometimes die, Hall said.
If a solicitor general waives the right to respond, usually because he believes the petition at issue is weak, that does not necessarily mean the case is dead, Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Givens said Tuesday. Likewise, if the solicitor general responds, it does not necessarily mean the Supreme Court will hear the case, Givens said.
The high court would ask the solicitor to file a response, though, before it would take a case, Givens said. About 7,000 to 10,000 such petitions are filed in any given year, Givens noted. The high court hears on average 80 cases per term, he said.
In the petition, Hall said, Maggio contends "that there is no federal jurisdiction over his alleged bribery offense because whatever federal funds were received by his judicial district had nothing whatsoever to do with" his decision to lower a Faulkner County jury's $5.2 million judgment in a nursing home negligence lawsuit to $1 million.
In his plea agreement, Maggio said he lowered the judgment in exchange for thousands of dollars in contributions given indirectly by nursing-home owner Michael Morton to Maggio's since-halted campaign for the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
The negligence lawsuit resulted from the 2008 death of Martha Bull, 76, of Perryville at Morton's Greenbrier nursing home. On July 8, 2013, Morton signed off on thousands of dollars in donations to several political action committees. On July 10, 2013, Maggio slashed the judgment. Morton has said he intended for the PAC donations to go in turn to Maggio's campaign, and some did.
"[Maggio's] acceptance of the campaign contribution certainly looks bad considering the timing, but [Maggio] earnestly believes that no crime occurred under [the statute under which he was charged] because there was no quid pro quo," Hall argued. "Instead, he was made to plead guilty at the badgering insistence of his counsel in the district court and against his better judgment."
Maggio hired a different attorney before his sentencing. Later, Hall was appointed to take over the appeal.
Maggio also implicated lobbyist and former state Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, in the bribery scheme. While the agreement did not identify Morton or Baker by name, the men have acknowledged Maggio was talking about them. They have denied wrongdoing.
As Maggio's sentencing approached earlier this year, he backed out of the plea agreement and said he had committed no crime. But U.S. District Judge Brian Miller would not allow Maggio to withdraw the plea, and a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis affirmed Miller's decision.
Maggio ended up not pursuing an argument of ineffective counsel on appeal, despite having made a similar argument in the past about the original attorneys.
Hall said Maggio's case would allow the Supreme Court to resolve whether its previous ruling in McDonnell v. United States, which threw out former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's corruption conviction, limits federal power to require a quid pro quo element to demonstrate the federal interest in prosecution. Agreeing to consider Maggio's case also would allow the high court to resolve conflicting lower-court rulings on the issue, Hall said.
"There has to be some limits on federal power to make something a crime and to prevent overcriminalization just because Congress wants to make something a crime," Hall wrote.
Hall said the quid pro quo question also is before the Supreme Court in another petition seeking review.
State Desk on 10/18/2017
Print Headline: Maggio appeals to U.S. justices; Void guilty plea is ex-judge’s aim