Updated 11:09 a.m.
Former Bush administration lawyer Scott Bloch is weighing his options this morning after a federal judge last night rejected his effort to back out of his guilty plea to the charge of lying to Congress.
The ruling sets up a potentially contentious sentencing hearing this afternoon in Washington's federal district court, where Bloch is scheduled to appear at 2:30 p.m. before Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson.
In recent weeks, Bloch and his lawyer, Winston & Strawn partner William Sullivan Jr., had urged Robinson to strike Bloch's plea deal because the judge failed to inform Bloch the charge against him carries a one-month mandatory minimum jail sentence.
This morning, Sullivan (at left) said Robinson's opinion failed to note two separate cases in Washington federal district court in which the defendants--Miguel Tejada and Elliot Abrams--received probation for contempt of Congress.
“It is disappointing that the Court’s Opinion never addresses, or even mentions, the Tejada or Abrams cases, which were and remain the key precedents informing the parties’ understanding at the time of the plea proceeding -- and the only prior instances of sentencings under the Contempt of Congress statute, wherein probation was imposed in each, which amply demonstrates that the statute does not carry a mandatory prison term.”
Bloch pleaded guilty in April in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In February, after Bloch's sentencing hearing had been postponed for months, Robinson ruled the charge of contempt of Congress carries a mandatory minimum one-month stint in prison.
The former head of the Office of Special Counsel, Bloch said in an affidavit this month he would not have pleaded guilty if he knew he would not receive probation. Bloch's attorneys and prosecutors insisted Robinson had authority to sentence Bloch to probation for the misdemeanor charge of contempt of Congress.
Glenn Leon, an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, supported Bloch's effort to withdraw his guilty plea, calling the motion "well founded." Leon said in recent court papers that the government was working with Bloch on a new plea deal to a different charge.
Robinson, in her ruling last night, declared that Bloch was aware the charge of contempt of Congress carries a prison sentence of up to a year and a maximum fine of $100,000. She also said Bloch was "cognizant of the full extent" of the provisions of the statute.
"His disagreement with the court's determination that the mandatory minimum penalty provision means what it says is not a basis upon which to find that [Bloch] was unaware of it," Robinson wrote.
At his plea hearing last April, Bloch acknowledged he was bound to his plea even if the judge decided on a more severe punishment than probation.
"Confidence in the fair and orderly administration of justice is undermined by the suggestion that the court should participate in a process by which a sentence is first determined by [Bloch] and the government, and then an offense expected to guarantee such a sentence is alleged," Robinson wrote.