LITTLE ROCK — Former Central Arkansas judge Michael Maggio should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to a federal bribery charge because the charge does not apply to the facts in his case, his attorney argued in court Friday.

LITTLE ROCK — Former Central Arkansas judge Michael Maggio should be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to a federal bribery charge because the charge does not apply to the facts in his case, his attorney argued in court Friday.


A lawyer with the U.S. attorney’s office in Little Rock argued that the charge does apply and that Maggio should not be allowed to back out of his plea agreement.


Maggio, former circuit judge for the 20th Judicial District, pleaded guilty in January 2015 to theft or bribery concerning programs receiving public funds. Prosecutors say that in 2013 he reduced a Faulkner County jury’s award of $5.2 million to $1 million in a civil suit in exchange for thousands of dollars in contributions to his campaign for the Arkansas Court of Appeals, which he later ended.


Earlier this month, Maggio moved to withdraw his plea. Maggio had been scheduled for sentencing Friday at the federal courthouse in Little Rock, but instead U.S. District Judge Brian Miller heard arguments on the motion and said he expected to issue a ruling within the next two weeks.


Miller said that if he denies the motion, he will hold a sentencing hearing soon afterward.


James Hensley Jr., who is representing Maggio now but was not when Maggio entered his guilty plea, argued that although circuit judges use federal funds for administrative work, the money Maggio received that is relevant to the charge against him was not federal money, so the charge does not apply.


"It’s incumbent upon us to make sure that what we do here in this courtroom follows the law," Hensley said.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Peters argued that the charge applies because Maggio’s office receives federal funds and said it does not matter that the bribe money was not federal money. She said Maggio admitted in his plea agreement that he reduced a jury award in exchange for campaign contributions and said he should not be allowed to take back that admission.


"The defendant pled guilty because he is guilty of bribery. He is not the victim here," she said.


Maggio attended the hearing but did not speak. He declined to talk to reporters afterward.


If he is not allowed to withdraw his plea, Maggio could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison and fined up to $250,000.


A lawsuit pending in Faulkner County Circuit Court alleges that Fort Smith businessman Michael Morton and former Republican state Sen. Gilbert Baker of Conway, the latter a former fundraiser for Maggio, conspired to funnel campaign contributions to Maggio in exchange for a reduced jury award against Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in a negligence suit.


The suit against Morton and Baker was filed by the family of Martha Bull, who died at the center, owned by Morton, in 2008. Morton and Baker have denied wrongdoing and have not been charged with a crime.


In September 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court ordered Maggio’s removal as a circuit judge and said he could never serve as a judge in the state again because of several violations of Arkansas’ rules of judicial conduct.