Federal Judge Brian Miller today denied former Circuit Judge Mike Maggio’s request to withdraw a plea of guilty to a charge that he accepted a bribe to reduce the verdict in a nursing home negligence case.
Nobody else was mentioned by name in Maggio’s indictment, but the circumstances pertain to campaign contributions to him from nursing home owner Michael Morton, arranged through former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway. Maggio was removed from the bench for other ethical missteps while this investigation was pending. No one else has been charged and Morton and Gilbert say they’ve done nothing wrong.
Maggio got a new lawyer and stopped cooperating with the feds as he’d promised. He’s claimed he can’t be charged under the statute used against him.
Judge Miller said the charge clearly was applicable. He also decided that Maggio freely entered into his guilty plea with full knowledge of his rights, the law, and the consequences and that the government provided a factual basis for a law violation.
The judge’s order cited at length Maggio’s own testimony in court on his understanding of the agreement to waive indictment and plead guilty and also as to whether the government had a factual basis for the charge. For example:
Maggio contends the government cannot prove that he explicitly agreed to remit a verdict in exchange for a campaign contribution. In the plea agreement, however, Maggio agreed that based on his communication with a certain Individual B [understood to be Baker], he “understood that .. Individual B was reminding Maggio to make a favorable ruling to Individual A [understood to be Morton] and Company a because of Individual A’s financial support of Maggio’s campaign.”
Maggio also agreed that, based on a different communication with Individual B, he “understood that Individual B was advising Maggio that, in exchange for Maggio’s ruling in favor of Company A and Individual A, Individual A would provide campaign donations to Maggio.” Finally, the plea agreement provides that “Maggio reduced the judgment against Company A from [$]5.2 million to $1 million.” Indeed, Maggio confirmed the accuracy of these statements following the U.S. Attorney’s Plea. These facts are sufficient to establish an explicit agreement.
The judge also entered an order setting Maggio’s sentencing for 1:30 p.m. March 24.
James Hensley, Maggio’s lawyer, said the sentencing would go forward as scheduled. There’s no means for any appeal in the interim. After sentencing, he said, he and Maggio will decide on whether a future appeal is worthwhile. “We’ll see what judge does. If he sentences to something not reasonable, he has an option to appeal. But we’ve found the judge to be pretty reasonable.”
Hensley said he thought he’d given it his “best shot” in seeking a dismissal of the charge. “We thought we had a pretty good motion.” But he said the judge did a “great job” in considering it and issued a “well-reasoned” opinion.
Could Maggio offer something now to change the federal government’s view that he hadn’t been helpful?
He said, “I don’t know of anything we could do to help out, at least at this point. If they ask, we’ll listen.” But he said the government’s unhappiness about what Maggio provided was a product of Maggio’s inability to provide it, rather than an unwillingness.