Judge says Bush official can withdraw his guilty plea

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The former head of the White House Office of Special Counsel in the George W. Bush administration can withdraw his guilty plea to a misdemeanor contempt of Congress charge because he did not realize he could go to jail, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

Both prosecutors and defense attorneys for Scott Bloch agreed that a sentence of probation was appropriate in his case, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson ruled that the plea required jail time.

Mr. Bloch then sought to withdraw his guilty plea, saying attorneys never mentioned possible jail time. He said he never would have pleaded guilty if he thought he was going to be locked up. Indeed, prosecutors also sought a sentence of probation.

Judge Robinson ruled against him, but U.S. District Court Chief Judge Royce Lamberth overturned her decision in a new ruling that lets Mr. Bloch withdraw the guilty plea.

Mr. Bloch pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress while it was investigating his decision to hire “Geeks On Call” to wipe clean the files of several government computers in his office. He headed the Office of Special Counsel in the Bush administration from 2004 to 2008.

Judge Lamberth’s ruling states that Judge Robinson never informed Mr. Bloch at his 2010 guilty plea hearing that he faced a minimum one-month jail sentence. He also said the Judge Robinson “clearly erred” in her ruling that he could not withdraw his plea.

Still, Judge Lamberth said attorneys in the case should have known about the potential for jail time.

“This is, at bottom, a situation in which lawyering has fallen short,” Judge Lamberth wrote in the 13-page opinion.

When she ruled against Mr. Bloch earlier this year, Judge Robinson said she could find no authority to support the notion that a one-month minimum is discretionary.

The latest ruling leaves open the possibility that Mr. Bloch could go to trial.

In a similar case, professional baseball player Miguel Tejada, now with the San Francisco Giants, received a sentence of probation after he pleaded guilty in federal court in Washington to withholding information from Congress. The slugger told Congress, which was investigating steroid use in baseball, he never used performance-enhancing drugs and didn’t know anything about other players using or talking about steroids.

In his guilty plea, Mr. Tejada admitted he withheld information concerning what he knew about a teammate’s use of steroids.

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