Judge Tosses Guilty Pleas of Two Ga. Judges, Cites Honest Services Ruling in Enron Case

Two Georgia judges who pleaded guilty in a criminal misconduct case have benefited from a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the reach of the honest services law.

A federal judge in Georgia on Wednesday set aside the pleas of Brooks Blitch and Berrien Sutton, former judges in the Alapaha Circuit near the Georgia-Florida border, report the Associated Press, the Daily Report’s AtLaw blog and the Brunswick News. Blitch was chief judge of the circuit.

U.S. District Senior Judge Hugh Lawson cited Skilling v. United States, an appeal by Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling that held the honest-services law covers only bribery and kickback schemes.

At his 2009 plea hearing, Blitch admitted he negotiated plea deals with defendants outside the courtroom, but there was no evidence of bribery. He received probation and a $100,000 fine. Lawson ordered the government to refund any payments that Blitch, 77, had made toward the fine.

As part of the plea deal, the Brunswick News says, prosecutors dropped charges that Blitch had ordered secret payments to county employees through a fee on criminal cases and had appointed Sutton to a judgeship in exchange for his legal services.

Federal prosecutors had joined with defense lawyers to ask Lawson to vacate Blitch’s plea.

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