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story.lead_photo.caption Former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, walks Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, into the John Paul Hammershmidt Federal Building in Fayetteville. - Photo by Andy Shupe

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to allow imprisoned former state Sen. Jon Woods and friend and consultant Randell Shelton Jr. to access sealed documents in a pending criminal case against former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker's order said she and lawyers on both sides in Hutchinson's case could find no controlling precedent that allows a criminal defendant in one federal court district to "intervene in the case of another criminal defendant and obtain discovery" evidence.

"The court will not create a new rule under these circumstances, particularly where the Court, like the parties, has been unable to find any controlling precedent or even particularly relevant case law from other jurisdictions that supports creating such a rule," Baker wrote.

Woods and Shelton filed a motion last month for access to documents that are shielded in Hutchinson's case in the Eastern District of Arkansas by a protective order.

Their attorneys said the information could be "beneficial and exculpatory" in appeals to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

The two were convicted in federal court in the Western District of Arkansas last year in a kickback scheme involving state General Improvement Fund grants to Ecclesia College of Springdale and Decision Point substance-abuse treatment center of Bentonville.

Prosecutors opposed their request to intervene in the Hutchinson case.

Hutchinson was indicted in federal court in Little Rock in August on eight counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. He's accused of stealing more than $150,000 in campaign contributions.

A nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Jeremy Hutchinson pleaded innocent and resigned from his state Senate seat.

Baker wrote that even if she had found more legal support for the request to intervene and obtain sealed documents, she would not have granted it for three additional reasons:

• Woods and Shelton didn't properly show the requested information would be exculpatory, or tend to exonerate them.

• Their arguments regarding FBI Agent Robert Cessario's wiping of a computer hard drive had already been decided in the Woods-Shelton trial heard in Fayetteville by U.S. District Judge Timothy Brooks.

Brooks concluded that there was no evidence under seal in Hutchinson's case "to show, and no good reason to believe" that Cessario "destroyed any information that is material" and "not already in defendants' possession," Baker wrote.

Baker added that she was "not convinced that intervenors should have an opportunity to relitigate Judge Brooks' ruling."

• Baker's court isn't the proper jurisdiction to decide allegations of government misconduct disclosed to Brooks during Woods and Shelton's trial.

Woods and Shelton asked for sealed copies of that information contained in Hutchinson's case because his attorneys also have alleged governmental misconduct.

Woods, of Springdale, was convicted May 3 on 15 felony counts of wire fraud and mail fraud connected to taking kickbacks from state grants he directed as a state senator. He was sentenced to 18 years, four months in prison, $1.6 million in restitution and $1 million forfeiture of assets.

Shelton, of Kemp, Texas, was convicted the same day on 12 counts of wire fraud and mail fraud in the same scheme and sentenced to six years in prison, three years' probation and $660,698 in restitution.

The motion to intervene by Woods and Shelton involved only charges Hutchinson faces in Little Rock.

On April 11, Hutchinson was also charged in U.S. District Court in western Missouri in a separate case alleging political corruption.

Hutchinson, of Little Rock, is accused of accepting bribes from former executives of a Missouri behavioral health company, Preferred Family Healthcare Inc., in exchange for influencing state legislation and regulations to help the company.

He has pleaded innocent. Charged with him and also pleading innocent are former company executives Tom Goss and Bontiea Goss.

The federal investigation into former officials of Preferred Family Healthcare and Hutchinson is part of a larger federal public corruption investigation in Arkansas and Missouri that has convicted a dozen people, including four former Arkansas lawmakers, a former private college president and former Arkansas Capitol lobbyist and Preferred Family executive Milton "Rusty" Cranford.

Information for this article was contributed by Linda Satter of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Photo by AP/U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas
This 2010 photo provided by the U.S District Court of Eastern District of Arkansas shows U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Randell Shelton Jr., Ecclesia College consultant and friend of Jon Woods walks Tuesday, May 1, 2018, out of the John Paul Hammerschmidt Federal Building in Fayetteville.

Metro on 04/25/2019

Print Headline: Request denied in ex-senator's case


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