Michael Maggio, the former Conway circuit judge who’s to be sentenced in federal court Thursday on a bribery charge, filed a motion today asking that the judge give him a sentence below the guideline range, preferably probation.
Maggio pleaded guilty to taking campaign contributions in return for lowering a $5.2 million nursing home damage verdict in his court to $1 million. No one else has been charged, though it’s a matter of record that the contributions were arranged by former Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway from Michael Morton, owner of the nursing home that benefited from the reduction. They deny any wrongdoing.
Maggio tried to withdraw his guilty plea after a probation office report recommended a tougher sentence The government said Maggio hadn’t been cooperative enough to justify a downward reduction and had failed a polygraph test at one point.
In the motion today, Maggio’s attorney James Hensley argued several key factors for a sentence reduction:
* Maggio brought shame upon himself and began his punishment in 2013 by withdrawing from a Court of Appeals race he likely would have won; resigning his circuit judgeship, and giving up his law license. “He chose to do the right thing for his profession and the people he served.”
Hensley argued Maggio wasn’t a risk for recidivism and will never be able to work in the legal business, in which he committed the crime.
* Hensley said the sentencing guidelines are not mandatory and should be read in the context of sentencing “goals.” Maggio contends he complied with his plea agreement. After he withdrew his plea, Hensley said, the government changed a recommendation of probation to a range between 30 months and 10 years. But Hensley said Maggio did this only out of an “abundance of caution” after deciding the statute under which he was charged might not apply. Judge Brian Miller also had that question, Hensley said, though he ultimately decided the question against Maggio.
Hensley pointed to testimony by former federal Judge Jim Moody that the amount awarded by Maggio in the nursing home trial was proper given the specifics of jury findings on questions in the case.
* Hensley said Maggio has “serious health problems” — including chronic depression, hypertension, sleep apneaand a cleft palate that requires regular surgery.
* Maggio demonstrated a “remarkable acceptance of responsibility.”
* Maggio’s “personal history and characteristics” merit a below-guideline sentence. The pleading said Maggio had fought throughout his life to “overcome systematic bullying and intimidation from the public. His being born with a birth defect did lead to continual bullying from peers, teachers, adults and others he met in his life.” Despite this, Maggio has “worked hard to treat all with respect. Anyone that ever interacted with him for any length of time would say he was nice and respectful.” (Some might argue this is at variance with injudicious commentary on an LSU fan website that led to the agreement by which Maggio gave up his judgeship, along with his disclosure of a confidential adoption by movie star Charlize Theron.)
“He is first and foremost a family man. He loves and cherishes his family,” the motion said. It also said Maggio, who divorced and remarried, has spent his life “trying to provide for them in all areas spiritually, emotionally, physically, economically.” He’s “suffered tremendously” for being unable to do the best for them the last two years and is missed in a community where he was “always one of the first to volunteer to help any nonprofit or group that needed help.”
Now, said Hensley, Maggio is “shunned” by colleagues and others, used as a case in continuing legal education and “convicted in the court of public opinion.”
He went on, “So to pile on by warehousing Mike in an out of sight jail cell really borders on the cruel.”
Pleaded Hensley, “Give Mike credit for his life of service to others. Give him credit for his self-imposed 26 months of permanent penalties. Give him the opportunity for rehabilitation and redemption. Give him probation and hope.”
The crime was serious and must be punished, Hensley concluded, but the court has discretion to fashion a sentence that is “reasonable and is not greater than necessary to answer the factors set forth” in the statute.
In providing a copy, Hensley commented to me in an e-mail:
We will stand on our motion and a few letters we sent to the Judge from friends, attorneys, and others. Of course, we are hoping for probation. Mike has been punished for almost two years now. He has been beaten pretty bad in the media and elsewhere the last few years. He lost his judgeship, law license, income, friends, respect of many folks, and a devout sadness that he has been associated with such an event. He feels terrible.
You know, I thought about folks in Mike’s position over the years. If a defendant is a mechanic or in sales and is found guilty of a crime, he can go back to being a mechanic or sales associate. In this instance, Mike will never again enjoy the fruits of a lot of hard work in being an attorney or judge. He has to start over.
It will be good to have some resolution I guess. Perhaps Mike will be able to serve others once again; just in a different setting.