Appeals judges to former court clerk who gave blank search warrants to robbers: Tough, you're not getting a pension or health insurance
A federal appeals court today refused to reinstate the pension and health benefits of a one-time Cambridge District Court clerk-magistrate even though he agreed to a plea deal because he thought it would let him keep his pension and benefits.
In 1995, Richard George agreed to plead guilty to charges he handed out search warrants that were used in a series of robberies along the East Coast - the bearers would pretend to be police officers and then rob drug dealers. George, who had spent 20 years as a court clerk, agreed to a 20-month prison sentence after his lawyer told him he would get to keep his pension and lifetime health coverage because he had formally retired before he entered his guilty plea.
His lawyer turned out to be wrong: In 2003, the state stopped payments and insurance coverage. George appealed to the federal courts, arguing this decision was fundamentally flawed and unfair. In 2010, the Supreme Court seemed to give him new ammunition for his appeal, when it ruled his type of conviction could only stand if there was proof of bribery or extortion, in a case involving former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling.
Not so fast there, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held today. Just because George's record shows no evidence he took a bribe doesn't mean he didn't - only that he agreed to a guilty plea before prosecutors could make their case:
The record makes manifest that the petitioner passed out search warrants like popsicles in July to a person whom he knew had no legitimate use for them. Common sense strongly suggests that the petitioner — who risked his reputation, his job, and his liberty by conspiring with [one of the other defendants] — must have received some sort of emolument to make his trouble worthwhile. The law does not require a court to blind itself to the obvious, and it would be tooth-fairy odd for the petitioner to have handed out blank warrants in the absence of a quid pro quo. In these uncertain circumstances, a Skilling error cannot readily be classified as an error of the most fundamental character.