Judge denies Jon Woods' request to be free pending appeal UPDATE | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Judge denies Jon Woods' request to be free pending appeal UPDATE

Posted By on Tue, Sep 25, 2018 at 11:30 AM

JON WOODS: Release pending appeal denied by trial judge. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • JON WOODS: Release pending appeal denied by trial judge.
Judge Timothy Brooks has rejected former state Sen. Jon Woods' request that he be allowed to remain free pending appeal of his public corruption conviction to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. UPDATED with news on co-defendant Randell Shelton and a request for a trial delay by Jeremy Hutchinson in another public corruption case.

Woods' filed notice last week of appeal of his conviction in a kickback scheme with Eccelsia College and others and a 220-month federal sentence. He also asked for release while the appeal pends. The government hasn't responded, but Brooks said he was sufficiently familiar with the facts and law to rule now so that Woods would have "as much advance notice as reasonably possible of what his obligations are with respect to incarceration during his appeal." Brooks had earlier ordered Woods to report to prison by 1 p.m. Wednesday and he affirmed that reporting time Monday.

Brooks said the legal standard was that someone sentenced to a prison term must be detained during appeal unless 1) he is not a flight risk and 2) the appeal isn't a delaying tactic and raises a substantial question of fact or law that could bring a reversal, an order for a new trial or a non-prison sentence.

Brooks said Woods wasn't a flight risk and he didn't view the appeal as a delaying tactic. So then to the questions raised on appeal:

The first issue is whether this Court should have dismissed the indictment after finding that FBI Special Agent Robert Cessario destroyed evidence. The second and third issues concern whether Mr. Woods performed an "official act" in exchange for bribes.
And the fourth issue concerns whether this Court conducted improper ex parte communications with the jury during the jury's deliberations. 
The judge said it wasn't a substantial question on the FBI agent's mishandling of information on his laptop. His testimony was excluded from the trial. Brooks was similarly dismissive of the argument that Woods had not taken official acts in return for money.

So this Court disagrees with Mr. Woods's contention that his appeal "presents the substantial question whether a public official takes 'official action' when he asks an aide a question, encourages a constituent to apply for state funds, connects individuals or
organizations with each other, or asks a fellow legislator to aid an individual or organization without taking the further step of asking the aide, organization, or any other government official to take any particular action on the government's behalf before, during, or after the meeting or event." Whatever case Mr. Woods is describing, it is not this one. This case presents the question whether a legislator takes "official action" when he sponsors and votes on legislation, when he instructs agencies to disburse public
monies that those agencies have specifically committed to his discretion, or when he asks or advises other legislators to do the same while knowing or intending that they will honor his request. And that question is not a "substantial" one, because the Supreme Court has already directly answered it, as described above. 
Finally, he rejected the argument that a response to jury questions had been sent with three words — from "general description" to summary, for example — from a form originally approved by attorneys. Brooks noted lawyers didn't ask that the small changes he made be rectified and the jury so instructed at the time.

They knew, just as well as any other person who is fluent in the English language, that in this context "summary" means the same thing as "general description," and that the Court's changes made no substantive difference whatsoever. 
Here's Brooks' full order.

Woods can ask the 8th Circuit for relief.

UPDATE: A side note on co-defendant Randell Shelton, middleman in the kickback scheme with Ecclesia. The government has joined Shelton's most that a financial judgment against him should be limited to the $267,500 he actually pocketed, not the whole $664,000 shipped to Ecclesia in state money. The government said it was a close call, because Shelton was deeply enmeshed in the planning, but nonetheless supported his motion for a reduction n the judgment. The judge has not ruled.

AND IN OTHER PUBLIC CORRUPTION: As expected, former Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson has asked for a delay in the Oct. 22 trial date for fraud and tax charges he faces. His attorney, Tim Dudley, said the government has indicated a massive amount of information will be produced in response to his discovery motion and more time will be needed to prepare for trial.

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