WASHINGTON (CN) – After months of stalwart opposition from a magistrate judge, the former head of the federal whistle-blower protection office can withdraw his plea of guilty to a corruption charge that would have put him behind bars for at least a month.
Scott Bloch, former special counsel for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, was removed from office in October 2008 after creating a national controversy by making it OSC policy not to act on gay and lesbian discrimination complaints. An appointee of President George W. Bush, Bloch also allegedly ordered private techs in 2006 to wipe government computers of data referring to workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Bloch entered a plea deal with prosecutors, expecting a sentence of probation, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson insisted in February that Bloch had to serve a minimum of one month in prison for admitting to criminal contempt. The maximum statutory penalty is one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Over the past several months, Bloch has delayed sentencing and tried to withdraw his plea – moves that had the support of prosecutors. But Robinson refused to budge.
Bloch fared better after appealing to Chief U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth.
“In light of the government’s lack of opposition, and upon consideration of the appeal … the court reverses the magistrate judge’s denial of defendant’s unopposed motion to withdraw his guilty plea,” Lamberth wrote Wednesday.
Bloch had argued that would not have pleaded guilty if he had known probation was not an option. Lamberth took issue with the magistrate judge’s reasoning for rejecting such arguments.
“She focused on the fact that defendant is a lawyer himself and was represented by counsel … that the mandatory minimum provision ‘is plainly included in the statute [and defendant] does not claim that he was unaware of the provision,’ but only that he believed that probation was possible,” Lamberth said of Robinson.
“In sum, the totality of the circumstances – namely, the representations of both parties and defendant’s prompt attempt to withdraw his plea – demonstrates that the Magistrate Judge’s … error affected defendant’s decision to plead guilty,” Lamberth added.
He ordered that the denial of Bloch’s unopposed motion to withdraw his plea be reversed.
In April, Bloch and his wife filed a $202 million complaint against more than a dozen federal officials they accuse of violating anti-racketeering law by conspiring to boot him out of office to cover up corruption and misuse of power at the highest levels of government.