A former lobbyist caught up in Jack Abramoff scandal has asked a federal judge to unseal government records to shed light on the "trial penalty"—the premium the government seeks to extract from defendants who exercise their right to trial instead of taking a plea offer.
Kevin Ring, sentenced earlier to 20 months in prison, has asked the federal district court in Washington to release portions of a government PowerPoint presentation given to him as part of pre-indictment dealings in 2008.
Back then, the government required the document to be kept secret, presumably to protect the secrecy of the government's then-continuing investigation into the Abramoff matter, according to Ring's attorneys, Andrew Wise and Timothy O'Toole of Miller & Chevalier in Washington.
But by the time of Ring's trial, these interests in secrecy had diminished substantially, the lawyers argue. The documents would bring "greater transparency to, and public scrutiny of, the daily workings of the criminal charging, plea, and sentencing processes," they wrote in the motion filed Dec. 23.
"The unsealing is sought so that relevant portions of the PowerPoint can be provided to public interest groups, legal academics, and others in order to educate the public about how pleas and charging decisions can work and how prosecutors’ actions can affect the criminal justice process," the motion states.
Wise and O'Toole point to "considerable recent public discussion about the trial penalty," including a Dec. 5 report from Human Rights Watch, "An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty."
They also cited an October sentencing memorandum from U.S. District Judge John Gleeson, which criticized the trial penalty, and a paper from white-collar law professor Ellen Podgor.
"Criminal justice reform advocates like Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM) are currently studying this issue, but are often stymied because materials that might shed additional light on the trial penalty (like Mr. Ring's reverse proffer agreement) are kept hidden from public scrutiny and review," the motion states.
Federal prosecutors have not filed a response, and Ring's lawyers indicated they have not been notified of the government’s position on the issue.
Ring has been ordered to surrender on Jan. 2. A jury found Ring guilty in a scheme to trade meals, trips and other things of value in exhange for favors from public officials. He was convicted on five of eight counts, including conspiracy, paying an illegal gratuity and honest-services wire fraud. It was his second trial.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the convictions in January, saying the Ring case exposed "the dark underbelly of a profession that has long played an important role in American politics."