Scott Walker to judge: Keep sentencing letters private

calee@sunherald.comJuly 11, 2014 

Walker

Scott Walker wants a federal judge to deny the Sun Herald's request for access to letters written to the court about him before he is sentenced in a public corruption case.

Walker's attorney, Arthur Madden of Mobile, argues the Sun Herald's request is premature. U.S. District Judge Keith Starrett is scheduled to sentence Walker on July 23, following his guilty plea to one charge each of conspiracy and fraud.

"On information and belief, members of the community have already or may in the coming days submit letters for the court's consideration at sentencing," Madden's motion says. "The weight which the Court attaches to the sentencing letter information is critical to whether the motion for disclosure should be granted, and that is a matter which can only be settled at sentencing."

Madden pointed out a federal judge in Mobile denied the newspaper access to letters written on behalf of former Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd. Byrd was sentenced in March on a witness-tampering charge.

In that case, Chief U.S. District Judge William Steele concluded: "No letters were submitted by persons holding themselves out as public officials seeking to use their public office to affect Byrd's sentence. No particular content in any particular letter influenced the undersigned's sentencing decision. What the court did consider at sentencing was the overall number and nature of the letters, which it fairly summarized on the record during the sentencing hearing."

Madden's motion also said Steele "noted that a factor

weighing against disclosure of sentencing letters was the concern that public broadcast of candid sentencing letters sent to a judge by members of the community and intended to be private can have unanticipated, harmful impacts on well-intentioned writers.

"It can also discourage letter writers from coming forward, thereby chilling the submission of presentence letters that courts routinely consider (along with all other information) in fashioning appropriate sentences in criminal cases."

At the Sun Herald's request, Starrett granted the news media access to letters written on behalf of Bill Walker and Michael Janus when they were sentenced on public-corruption charges in June. Starrett sentenced Walker, Scott Walker's father and former director of the state Department of Marine Resources, to five years in prison after his guilty plea to the conspiracy charge. Janus, former D'Iberville city manager, will serve 21 months for fraud.

Scott Walker pleaded guilty to the same charges in the two cases. The Walkers admitted they conspired to spend DMR money on property Scott Walker owned. Janus and Scott Walker admitted they committed fraud when Janus, as city manager, secured an unearned $180,000 finder's fee for Walker's consulting firm. Half the money was deposited into the account of a business Walker and Janus owned.

In a review of applicable law, Starrett said he found legal authority to release the letters. Also, attorneys for Bill Walker and Michael Janus did not object to their release.

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