Scott Bloch, an ethics official in the administration of President George W. Bush who pleaded guilty to contempt of Congress last year, can withdraw his plea because neither he nor defense attorneys and prosecutors realized the crime carries a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.
Judge Royce Lamberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said a federal magistrate was wrong to refuse to allow Bloch, the former chief of the Office of Special Counsel, to pull out of his misdemeanor plea deal once the misunderstanding arose, Josh Gerstein reported on Politico.
Lamberth said the magistrate, Deborah Robinson, was required by federal court rules to advise Bloch of any minimum mandatory sentence before accepting a guilty plea. “The record indisputably shows a Rule 11 error in that the Magistrate Judge failed to advise him of the mandatory minimum sentence he later received at sentencing,” Lamberth wrote in his opinion.
Bloch pleaded guilty in April 2010 in connection with his testimony before a House oversight committee, as Main Justice reported.
It appears that, for months after the guilty plea, prosecutors and defense lawyers thought Bloch could escape any jail time, until the magistrate declared that a 30-day minimum sentence was required. “This is, at bottom, a situation in which lawyering has fallen short.”