LITTLE ROCK — A federal judge handed down the maximum 10-year sentence Thursday to a former Arkansas circuit judge who reduced a jury award in exchange for campaign contributions, saying a "dirty judge" is worse than a dope dealer.
Former circuit court Judge Michael Maggio pleaded guilty last year to a federal bribery charge, admitting he accepted $50,000 in donations two days before reducing a jury’s $5.2 million award to $1 million in a negligence lawsuit. Maggio had been permanently removed from the bench in 2014, after making inappropriate comments in an online forum — including disclosing confidential details about an adoption involving Hollywood actress Charlize Theron.
In sentencing Maggio, U.S. District Judge Brian Miller said the 54-year-old former judge’s actions were "crooked."
"What is worse, a dope dealer talking on the phone about a dope deal or a dirty judge?" Miller asked. "There’s no question in society, a dirty judge is far more harmful to society than any dope dealer."
Prosecutors had recommended the 10-year prison sentence for the former Faulkner County Circuit Court judge. Maggio’s attorneys had sought probation, saying the former judge has suffered "personal, professional and political destruction" over the past two years. They also said he had health issues.
In court Thursday, Maggio’s attorney James Hensley said he had "pretty much lost everything."
"Mike was a great judge and a great lawyer. ... He’s got a very good reputation if not for this miscalculation in his ethics," he said. "He’s not going to ever be a judge or a lawyer. ... He’s going to have to start all over."
Miller said he never considered sentencing Maggio to probation. The sentencing guidelines, a non-binding recommendation based on previous criminal history and the severity of the crime, called for 51 to 63 months. Miller balked at the recommendation.
"That’s just not enough. Mr. Maggio, that’s just not enough," he said.
Prosecutors said in filings this week that Maggio had not taken responsibility for his actions, tried to delete text messages relevant to the investigation, and had stopped making himself available for interviews in violation of his plea agreement.
They also said Maggio lied to investigators at the Arkansas Ethics Commission looking into the donations, and he failed a lie detector test asking for more details of the interactions between himself, the nursing home owner and a lobbyist who brokered the exchange.
Prosecutors said the donations, which included $24,000 from the nursing home company’s owner, were made in July 2013. Maggio admitted in January 2015 that he had accepted the campaign donations from an unidentified nursing home owner and lobbyist in exchange for reducing the jury award. He also surrendered his law license.
Prosecutors had asked Miller to consider making Maggio criminally liable for paying the family in the civil lawsuit the $4.2 million reduction in the jury award. Miller said he could not use the jury award to set a fine because he did not know if Maggio would have reduced the award in the nursing home negligence case without the bribe.
A lawyer for the family involved in the lawsuit said after the sentencing that Maggio’s punishment brought some, but not complete, justice to the family.
Maggio declined to speak during the sentencing and ignored shouted questions from reporters as he left the courthouse surrounded by his family. Hensley said an appeal is likely.
Miller ordered Maggio to report to prison on May 23, but he did not specify a prison. Hensley requested that Maggio be sentenced to the federal lockup in Texarkana because he has family in the area.