Federal prosecutors are not getting in the way of former Bush administration lawyer Scott Bloch, who wants a federal trial judge in Washington to allow him to back out of his plea deal in a contempt case and start from scratch.
Bloch in June asked Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of Washington federal district court to review the decision of a magistrate judge, Deborah Robinson, who earlier this year refused to allow Bloch to take back his guilty plea. Prosecutors this week said they support Bloch in the appeal.
Bloch pleaded guilty in April 2010 to contempt of Congress, a misdemeanor, under the assumption he was eligible for probation, his attorney, Winston & Strawn partner William Sullivan Jr. said.
The terms of the plea deal set the guideline range between zero and six months in prison. Robinson, however, after researching the statute for months, declared that Bloch must spend at least a month in prison.
At that point, Bloch wanted nothing to do with his plea deal and tried to get out the agreement. Robinson rejected the effort, arguing that Bloch was well aware he could face up to a year in prison. Bloch is seeking a second opinion.
Sullivan said in court papers in June that Lamberth’s review “could be no more straightforward” because all parties agree that Bloch’s plea hearing was defective. Sullivan said Robinson “ignored the most compelling evidence,” including the terms of the plea agreement and representations from defense counsel and the prosecution.
Robinson, according to Sullivan, “speculated that Bloch must have known that probation was not a possibility because he was a lawyer who had read the statute, despite the imprecision of the statute’s language.”
“As a result of this strangely adversarial proceeding, Bloch was victim to a bait-and-switch that removed his inducement to plead guilty in the first place: the very realistic possibility of probation,” Sullivan said in court papers.
Prosecutors this week told Lamberth that the government is siding with Bloch in the dispute, saying he should be allowed to back out of his plea arrangement.
An assistant U.S. attorney, Glenn Leon, who was involved in the negotiations with Bloch, said his motion to withdraw his guilty plea was “well-founded.”
Leon said the record “indicates that the time he entered his guilty plea, the defendant believed that it was possible to receive a sentence of probation from the lower court.”
The U.S. Probation Office, Leon said, concluded a year earlier that baseball slugger Miguel Tejada, charged with contempt of Congress for lying about drug use, was eligible for probation. A magistrate judge sentenced Tejada to a year of probation.
“In short, it was not unreasonable of the defendant to believe that at the time he pleaded guilty on April 27, 2010, he had a chance to receive a probationary sentence that did not require him to serve any jail time,” Leon said. “This is especially true where, as here, the lower court failed to inform the defendant otherwise.”