Federal prosecutors are not opposed to Scott Bloch, the former head of the Office of Special Counsel, withdrawing his guilty plea to the charge of lying to Congress.
A prosecutor, Glenn Leon, said Bloch's wish to back out of the plea is “well-founded” and should be permitted. Last year, Bloch pleaded guilty to misdemeanor contempt of Congress in Washington's federal trial court and agreed to a sentence of probation, community service and a fine.
When the presiding judge, Deborah Robinson, ruled in February that the charge carries a one-month mandatory minimum prison sentence, Bloch’s lawyers at Winston & Strawn asked for permission to withdraw the guilty plea.
In court papers, Leon, an assistant U.S. attorney in the District, said the government entered an agreement with Bloch on a “good-faith belief” that the charge did not come with a mandatory minimum prison sentence.
“The current record indicates that there is a reasonable probability that the defendant would not have pled guilty on April 27, 2010, had he been advised that the court had no discretion to sentence him to probation,” Leon wrote.
Leon said Robinson failed to tell Bloch that the charge carried a mandatory jail term. That’s the argument that Bloch’s lawyer, Winston partner William Sullivan Jr., made in court papers filed last week.
The legal issue in the case concerns Rule 11 of the federal rules of criminal procedure. The rule requires a judge to tell a defendant about any mandatory minimum penalty. The problem, of course, is that Robinson’s ruling came after Bloch and prosecutors negotiated the plea.
“The only thing that is mandatory about this case is the Rule 11 requirement that the Court advise the defendant of the mandatory nature of the statute, and the Court itself did not make that determination until months later, and so obviously never advised Mr. Bloch at the plea proceeding,” Sullivan said in a written statement.
Robinson has not ruled on Bloch’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea. Bloch’s sentencing is scheduled for March 10.