Judge Postpones Second Ring Trial After Supreme Court Ruling

Posted July 6, 2010 at 4:10pm

A U.S. District judge on Tuesday postponed the retrial of former House-aide-turned-lobbyist Kevin Ring until October, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the scope of a public corruption statute.

“Skilling has made a difference,” Judge Ellen Huvelle said at a status hearing on the case, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision last month limiting the use of a public corruption statute known as the “honest services” law to only those cases involving bribery or kickback schemes. Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling, who was charged under the law, had argued that the statute was too vague.

Federal prosecutors had relied heavily on that law in their influence-peddling investigation of Ring’s former boss, disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, in part because it provided more legal flexibility than the rigid requirements of charges such as bribery.

Federal prosecutor Peter Koski told Huvelle that the Justice Department does not plan to drop any of the eight charges it has filed against Ring, including five counts of honest services fraud.

“The Skilling opinion has no impact whatsoever on this case,” Koski said.

But Huvelle told federal prosecutors that the government needs to explicitly define the official acts it alleges Ring sought, stating that such acts must now fall under a strict definition.

“This is not the same arena we were in before,” Huvelle said. She ordered government prosecutors to outline “what official acts were the result of bribery, who did they target to do what” in documents due later this month.

Huvelle also ordered Ring’s defense team to file a new motion for acquittal.

The judge set a hearing on outstanding motions in the case for mid-August. The new trial, scheduled to begin in October, is expected to last about three weeks.

Ring’s first trial occurred in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in fall 2009, but Huvelle declared a mistrial in October when jurors failed to reach a unanimous verdict.

Ring, a former aide to then-Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) and then-Sen. John Ashcroft (R-Mo.), is accused of providing tickets to sporting events and other gifts to Congressional staff in exchange for assistance for Abramoff’s clients.

In addition, Koski said the government intends to call witnesses including Tony Rudy, a “Team Abramoff” lobbyist and former aide to then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas); Todd Boulanger, a Team Abramoff lobbyist and former aide to then-Sen. Bob Smith (R-N.H.); and Neil Volz, former chief of staff to then-Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio).

Volz pleaded guilty in 2006 to helping Abramoff bribe Ney and was sentenced in 2007 to two years of probation.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the Skilling decision could affect Rudy’s or Boulanger’s respective plea agreements. Both had pleaded guilty to at least one corruption charge, including honest services fraud, but have yet to be sentenced owing to their ongoing cooperation with Justice Department prosecutors.