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Media Alerts - United States v. Terry -- Sixth Circuit
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March 19, 2013
  United States v. Terry -- Sixth Circuit
2013-02-14

Headline: Sixth Circuit Affirms Ohio Judge's Conviction for Fixing Cases

Area of Law: Federal Anti-Corruption Statute

Issues Presented: (1) Did an indictment charging a judge with honest-services mail fraud specifically identify a crime, as required by law? (2) Was the jury properly instructed on the elements for accepting a bribe? (3) Was the evidence sufficient to establish that the judge accepted a bribe?

Brief Summary: A grand jury indicted a trial judge on five counts of political corruption. The judge had sought help with his reelection campaign from the county auditor. In exchange for the auditor's financial and political support, the auditor expected the judge to fix cases. The jury convicted the judge on three of five charges. The judge argued on appeal that the indictment should have been dismissed because it failed to identify a crime, that the jury instruction was improper, and that there was insufficient evidence to show he had accepted a bribe. The Sixth Circuit rejected these arguments and affirmed the convictions.

Significance: This case offers a vivid look at how the federal anti-corruption statute applies when a public official receives a bribe disguised as a legitimate campaign contribution.

Extended Summary: A judge seeking reelection asked a county auditor for financial and political support. In exchange for this support, the auditor expected the judge to fix cases. The judge did just that. For instance, the auditor asked the judge to deny a bank's motions for summary judgment, and the judge denied the motions without reviewing the case files or reading the motions. The judge was ultimately indicated on five political-corruption charges. All the charges pertained either to mail fraud or honest-services fraud. The jury convicted the judge on three of the five charges.

On appeal, the judge first argued that the district court should have dismissed the charges because they failed to identify a crime. The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument. It found that the indictment contained a "plain, concise, and definite written statement of the essential facts" by outlining, among other things, the judge's relationship with the auditor and detailing the auditor's request that the judge deny the bank's motions for summary judgment. The court explained that honest-services mail fraud requires the government to show that the judge used the mail to carry out a scheme to defraud another of the right to honest services. The indictment alleged this sufficiently by describing the bribery and kickback scheme between the judge and the auditor.

The judge's second argument on appeal was that the jury instruction on bribery was improper because it should have distinguished between public officials who may accept campaign contributions and those who may not. The Sixth Circuit rejected this argument, noting that neither Congress nor the Supreme Court has made such a distinction. Here, the instruction adequately described the type of transaction that constitutes a bribe, properly requiring some form of agreement as "the key component" of the offense.

Finally, the judge argued that there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had accepted a bribe. The Sixth Circuit disagreed, concluding that the evidence showed that the judge entered into an agreement to fix cases in order to receive benefits from the auditor. Recorded phone calls revealed that the auditor explicitly asked the judge to deny the bank's motions for summary judgment, and the judge did exactly that within 24 hours of the call, without having reviewed the motions or the case files. Thus, the jury could reasonably infer that the judge accepted a bribe to fix cases.

To read the full opinion, please go to: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/op...s.pdf/13a0040p-06.pdf

Panel: Circuit Judges Sutton, Griffin, and White

Argument: 10/10/2012

Date of Issued Opinion: 02/14/2013

Docket Number: 11-4130

Decided: Affirmed

Case Alert Author: Kathryn Burkhart

Counsel: Argued: Sylvester Summers, Jr., SYLVESTER SUMMERS, JR., CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Daniel R. Ranke, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee. On Brief:Sylvester Summers, Jr., SYLVESTER SUMMERS, JR., CO., LPA, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Daniel R. Ranke, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.
Author of Opinion: Judge Sutton

Supervisor: Professor Mark Cooney

Edited: 03/25/2013 at 10:50 AM by Mark Cooney

    Posted By: Mark Cooney @ 03/19/2013 12:39 PM     6th Circuit  

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