BRIAN CHILSON/ File photo
MIKE MAGGIO: Loses appeal.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
has affirmed the conviction and 10-year sentence of Mike Maggio,
the former circuit judge from Conway, for taking a bribe to reduce the verdict in a nursing home negligence case.
The court held there was a factual basis for Maggio's original guilty plea, which he had tried to withdraw. It said District Judge Brian Miller did not err in refusing to permit him to withdraw his guilty plea. The court also said that the defendant's actions in taking a bribe to make a ruling in the case made it significantly worse and supported an upward departure from sentencing guidelines.
In 2013, Maggio reduced a $5.2 million unanimous jury verdict against a Greenbrier nursing home owned by Michael Morton of Fort Smith for failure to send a sick woman to a hospital as a doctor had ordered. She died in agony. Maggio made the reduction around the time Morton was making campaign contributions through multiple PACs to Maggio's planned race for Court of Appeals, donations arranged by former Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway.
Those circumstances were mentioned obliquely in Maggio's indictment though Morton and Baker were not identified by name and neither has been charged. Both have contended their actions were legal and not intended to influence Maggio.
A civil case over the verdict reduction pends
against Morton and Baker. It has been on hold pending the resolution of the appeal. Maggio was dismissed as a defendant, held immune because he acted in an official capacity. He could now be deposed as a witness in the case. Thomas Buchanan, attorney for the family pursuing that case, said they had "anticipated and hoped" for today's result, but with possibilities of appeals remaining, it was still too soon to say specifically how the civil case might appeal. As long as an appeal is possible, for example, Maggio could invoked
the Fifth Amendment if asked about details of the case.
Maggio has been free on bond. He argued his case in March,
claiming the evidence didn't support a quid pro quo and also making the argument he hadn't waived his right to appeal when he initially entered a guilty plea.
This likely means he'll have to begin serving his 10-year sentence soon, perhaps within 30 days.
I'm seeking comment on appeal plans,
if any. UPDATE: John Wesley Hall,
Maggio's attorney, said he was considering an appeal, either first to the entire 8th Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 8th Circuit said Maggio clearly was acting on court business in remitting (reducing) the judgment.
Maggio’s claim that there was no basis for finding any quid pro quo ignores his express admission of “accept[ing] . . .financial support . . . intending to be influenced and induced to remit the judgment” (emphasis added)
He also had tried to claim the government had to prove a "nexus" between his judicial duties and federal money the court received to be allowed to prosecute him. The court further commented:
Finally, Maggio’s undeveloped suggestion that he did nothing wrong because “the remittitur was legally required” reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of his crime. Simply put, Maggio admitted he took money intending it to color his judgment in a case. That was illegal, whether or not a judge who was not corrupt
might have ruled the same way.
The court had no sympathy for Maggio's argument of a double counting in his sentence, which took into account his being a public official and acting as a judge. A "dirty judge" is more damaging to society than a dope dealer, Judge Brian MIller
had said in doubling the normal sentencing range, where Maggio had asked for probation.
In the district court’s view, the fact Maggio acted corruptly while performing his core duty as a judge presiding over a case—a context in which, even more than other high level and elected officials, he assumed a mantle of impartiality and sat as a personification of “the system”—set his crime apart and made it significantly worse than the usual one to which the Guidelines provision applied. We see no abuse of discretion in that determination, particularly given the deference we afford the district court regarding sentencing..
Maggio was removed from the circuit court bench — and dropped his race for the court of appeals — on account of comments he made under a pseudonym on an Internet website. He made demeaning comments about women, minorities
and others. The question about his verdict reduction had been raised by them, thanks particularly to campaign finance analysis by Blue Hog Report.
Maggio's guilty plea was negotiated and he was expected to help the government in continuing investigation of his case. But that didn't transpire and the government sought to enhance his sentence when he stopped cooperating.
Here's the full decision.
It begins with a recitation of the core facts:
In late spring 2013, Michael Maggio was a circuit (trial) judge in Arkansas, starting to campaign for a seat on the Arkansas Court of Appeals. Through a lobbyist, Maggio solicited “‘nursing home folks’”—stockholders, not residents—for financial support. Meanwhile, Maggio was presiding over a case in which the jury had just returned a $5.2 million verdict against a nursing-home company. On the day Maggio heard argument on the company’s motion to remit the judgment, the owner of the company wrote checks totaling $24,000 to support Maggio’s campaign. Maggio, who had been told by the lobbyist that the company’s owner would give money if Maggio ruled in his company’s favor, accepted the contributions and, in exchange, reduced the award to $1 million.
Does finality in this case
hold any clues for further federal action in the case? It's one of the open questions, at least. It is also possible that, facing 10 years in federal prison, Maggio might rethink his initial promise to cooperate with the government, though his bargaining power has been substantially reduced.