A federal judge in Washington late Tuesday refused to reconsider a decision this month in which she rejected former Bush administration lawyer Scott Bloch's request to back out of his plea deal in a contempt case.
In a ruling (PDF) issued last night, Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson said Bloch, who led the Office of Special Counsel under President George W. Bush, was aware the charge of contempt of Congress carries a mandatory-minimum sentence of one month in jail. Robinson is scheduled to sentence Bloch today at 4 p.m.
Bloch, the judge said, was also aware that he faced up to a year in prison, an acknowledgment Bloch made when he pleaded guilty in April 2009 in Washington's federal trial court. At the hearing, Bloch also said he was not promised a sentence.
Bloch, through his lawyers at Winston & Strawn, arranged a plea deal that called for probation, community service and a fine to resolve a misdemeanor charge. Bloch lied when he told congressional staffers he did not hire an information technology company to erase files from his government computer.
Judges have the final word on punishment, but they rarely reject negotiated settlements. After studying the contempt statute for months, Robinson in February announced that Bloch must spend at least a month in jail.
Ever since then, Bloch and his defense lawyer, Winston partner William Sullivan Jr., have tried to abandon the plea deal. Sullivan argued that Robinson had an obligation at the time of the plea hearing to inform Bloch that the charge came with a mandatory-minimum jail sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Leon has supported Bloch's effort to start over, saying the government negotiated a deal in good faith and that principles of fairness are in play.
Sullivan and Leon have argued in court and in recent pleadings that Robinson has discretion to sentence Bloch to probation.
The lawyers point to the recent contempt case in Washington against baseball slugger Miguel Tejada, who received probation in 2009 for the same charge brought against Bloch. Sullivan urged Robinson to reconsider her March 9 decision that denied Bloch’s effort to withdraw from his guilty plea.
This morning, Sullivan said in a statement that Robinson “inexplicably, repeatedly, and wrongfully” is ignoring “the plain and compelling law and evidence presented” that Bloch genuinely believed the contempt charge was probation-eligible. “[T]hat is the crucial inquiry here, and its answer is blindingly obvious," Sullivan said.
Sullivan also said: “What is most distressing about the opinion is the Court’s erroneous assertion that we did not pursue the idea that the Court ‘patently misunderstood’ the parties.'"
In court papers, Sullivan said that Robinson's opinion earlier this month, where she denied Bloch's motion to withdraw his guilty plea, is "premised on a misunderstanding" of Bloch's position in the case.