The Justice Department is trying to block the release of a PowerPoint presentation that convicted lobbyist Kevin Ring is trying to pry loose in order to explore whether prosecutors punish defendants who don’t settle on a plea agreement and instead go to court.
Ring, who was convicted of bribery in the Jack Abramoff scandal and sentenced to 20 months in prison, has asked a judge to unseal the presentation prosecutors shared with him years ago, arguing there’s no need for secrecy anymore because the investigation has long since ended.
Ring’s attorneys filed the motion just before the former lobbyist reported to a federal prison in western Maryland. They said the sealed records would be shared with criminal justice reform groups to help those studying “the premium the government seeks to extract” from defendants who go to trial.
But prosecutors are fighting the release, urging a judge to keep portions of the presentation that Ring wants to unseal out of public view.
“The criminal discovery process was not designed to permit defendants to make post-conviction use of protected documents for non-case related purposes,” government attorneys argued in a recent pleading.
Among 21 Abramoff scandal defendants, only Ring fought the charges at trial instead of pleading guilty. After a mistrial, he was convicted of giving gifts, including sports tickets, to government officials to influence them.
But while Abramoff, the ringleader of the bribery scandal, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years, prosectors had requested that Ring spend as long as 22 years in prison after his conviction.
The request prompted complaints from Ring’s legal team that the former lobbyist was being unfairly penalized for exercising his constitutional right to go to trial.
Ring’s lawyer said the release of the sealed portions of the PowerPoint prevention would bring about greater transparency and public scrutiny of “the daily workings of the criminal charging, plea and sentencing processes.”
But in its response, the Justice Department, which has pledged greater government transparency under President Obama, argued that the presentation wouldn’t tell the whole story.
The records would provide only “an incomplete and imbalanced view of the issue on which he hopes to ‘educate the public,’” Justice Department prosecutors argued.
Prosecutors also argued the disclosure risks “chilling candor” in future plea deal talks.