Mike Maggio, the former circuit judge attempting to withdraw a guilty plea in the case in which he was accused of taking campaign contributions to reduce a jury verdict in a nursing home negligence case, took his appeal today to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
Maggio was in court to hear arguments by his attorney, John Wesley Hall Jr. of Little Rock. Maggio argues that there isn’t evidence to show a quid pro quo necessary for a conviction on the statute under which he was charged. But the key issue is whether his plea agreement waived his right to appeal.
The panel that heard the case were Judges William Riley of Omaha, Raymond Gruender of St. Louis and James Gritzner, a senior status district judge from Iowa. They were scheduled for 20 minutes of arguments at 9 a.m.
The 8th Circuit eventually posts recordings of the arguments on-line. the Maggio case, 16-1795, eventually will be available at this link.
Maggio was sentenced to 10 years originally, but has been allowed to remain free pending the appeal.
No one else has been charged in the case. It’s understood that the circumstances pertain to campaign contributions Maggio received for an ultimately aborted race for state Court of Appeals from Michael Morton of Fort Smith, funneled with the help of former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, also Maggio’s hometown. They’ve denied any improper actions in the campaign support. Maggio reduced a unanimous verdict of $5.2 million against a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Morton to $1 million. He said the jury verdict shocked the conscience in the case of a woman who suffered immensely before dying after the nursing home overlooked a physician’s order for hospital treatment.
UPDATE: The audio is posted. Hall acknowledged the difficulty of overcoming some federal precedent in the case, but he argued that, while Maggio’s court received federal funds, that money had no nexus with the facts in this case. Ultimately, he argued whether the court had jurisdiction in the case.
Most of the questions from the court went to Hall. One line of questioning was whether his guilty plea waived his ability to now challenge the constitutionality of the law under which he was sentenced.
Hall argued that Maggio’s reduction of the jury verdict was legally proper. And he said the other parties, including Individual B (Baker — “bagman, for lack of a better word,” Hall said) had insisted there was no quid pro quo. But Hall said Maggio felt he’d been strong-armed by his former lawyer into the pleas. A judge questioned whether that was a strong argument from a judge. One judge commented: “It’s sad for him and sad for the system, but it’s the consequence of his actions.”
How, a judge asked, did Hall deal with the fact that Maggio had said he viewed the deal as a quid pro quo. “Admittedly,” he said, that’s a difficulty.
Julie Peters of the U.S. attorney’s office said no nexus of the federal funds was required. She particularly took exception to the suggestion that Maggio had said inaccurate thigns at his plea hearing or had been uniformed. “He swore under oath before a federal judge that these things were true. He was represented by able counsel. Contrary, to what the record shows, he got cold feet.” She suggested he wanted to withdraw his plea because he had lost favorable sentencing consideration through a failure to be truthful and cooperative with the government after the plea. In an interview with the government after a failed polygraph, he “admitted material conduct even more incriminating” than acts to which he agreed in the plea, she said.
In response to the argument that the verdict reduction was legal, Peters said there was no way to know what a judge acting with “pure” motives would have done. What’s known is a $4.2 million reduction. Even Maggio’s expert witness, former federal Judge Jim Moody, said reasonable people could disagree on what was done.
In response to a question, Peters said it was extraordinary for Maggio to be free on bond. She suggested that some might view his stature as a judge as contributing to that. She said she hoped the bond would be revoked if the court finds there isn’t a substantial ground to find he should be able to withdraw his guilty plea.
As is customary, the case was taken under advisement.