Like a file from a hard drive, Scott Bloch's one month prison sentence has been wiped away.
A federal judge on Wednesday overturned the conviction and month-long jail sentence of a former government whistle-blower protector who pleaded guilty to keeping information from congressional investigators. Judge Royce Lamberth ruled that a magistrate judge "abused her discretion" by refusing to let President George W. Bush's former special counsel, Scott Bloch, withdraw his guilty plea with the support of prosecutors.
Bloch's contempt of Congress charge relates to his decision to hire Geeks on Call to scrub his office computer while he was under investigation for retaliating against his own employees. Apparently he didn't realize that the guilty plea might land him in the slammer, and so after a magistrate judge handed him a one month sentence, he tried to call backsies.
To Judge Lamberth, it didn't matter whether or not it was actually plausible that the defendant didn't realize the potential consequences of his initial guilty plea.
"[T]he relevant question," the judge wrote, "is what defendant believed when he pled guilty, however inexplicable that belief." In other words, it might sound crazy that Bloch didn't know the guilty plea carried potential jail time, but the important thing is that he believed that it didn't.
As the AP reports, Judge Lamberth said both sides (the prosecution did not get in the way of Bloch's request) should have been aware of the possibility of jail time, and described the case as "a situation in which lawyering has fallen short."
To POGO, however, it feels more like a situation where, yet again, justice has fallen short. As we wrote in July, a month in jail seems a little lenient. But no jail time at all?
It remains to be seen what will end up happening to Bloch. He continues to face serious charges. Will the Justice Department (DOJ)/ show the same verve in prosecuting Bloch as it has shown in going after national security whistleblowers? Or will it back down and allow Bloch to avoid being held accountable? POGO hopes that in the end, DOJ will hold its ground and proceed with its prosecution of Bloch. And POGO also hopes that his punishment would be commensurate with the damage he did to whistleblowers across the government and to his own office.
Bryan Rahija edits POGO's blog.