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September 15, 2021

Convicted January 6 rioter, who got (below-guideline) sentence of eight months in federal prison, seeks to undo his plea and sentence

This new Politico piece, fully headlined "First Jan. 6 rioter sentenced for a felony seeks to unwind plea deal; Paul Hodgkins is claiming through a new attorney that his signature on the deal was forged," reports on a notable post-sentencing effort by a notable defendant to undo his plea.  Here are just some of the interesting details:

The first Jan. 6 rioter sentenced for a felony charge began mounting a desperate bid Wednesday to unravel his plea agreement, claiming through a newly retained attorney that his signature on the deal was forged.  But the federal judge in the case, Randy Moss, expressed skepticism about the claim and noted it could even put Paul Hodgkins at legal risk, since he said under oath that he had reviewed and accepted the plea deal.

Hodgkins was charged with felony obstruction of Congress for breaching the Capitol and making his way to the floor of the Senate, where images show him donning gloves and rifling through some papers left in the evacuated room.  He pleaded guilty to the charge in June, while being represented by attorney Patrick Leduc, a JAG Reserve officer who later deployed to Qatar, where he is assisting with Afghan refugee rescue operations.

Moss sentenced Hodgkins in July to an eight-month jail term, far below the government’s recommended 16-month sentence, an acknowledgment that Hodgkins was among the first to accept responsibility for his role in the breach.  But Hodgkins’ new claim puts the matter into turmoil.  Hodgkins had asked Moss to delay his jail sentence, which is set to begin on Sept. 20, until January, giving him time to mount his effort to unwind the plea agreement.  But Moss rejected that attempt Wednesday afternoon, saying Hodgkins "has not demonstrated good cause for the requested four-month delay."

His new attorney, Carolyn Stewart, made the forgery allegation during a hearing called by Moss to address Hodgkins’ claim that Leduc provided ineffective counsel. She said she retained handwriting expert Curt Baggett to review the document and confirmed that it was not Hodgkins’ signature on the agreement.  Baggett, she said, would be willing to testify to it in court.  Stewart suggested that the allegedly forged signature was one of many irregularities tainting the case. “It’s mind boggling,” the defense attorney said, mentioning that she is attuned to such patterns because of her work as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan. “These kinds of things keep popping up ... I’m floored.”

LeDuc said in an email to POLITICO that the claim of a forged signature was "insane" and that he painstakingly reviewed the deal with Hodgkins.  "I went over every single line of that plea agreement with Paul for about three hours to include the factual stipulations and he signed the thing in front of me and then came back and [re-signed] the other form as well," he said.  "Nothing happened in the case without Paul’s consent.  I don’t understand any of this this. It is insane and I am just so over it all."

In a phone interview, Baggett confirmed he conducted the analysis of Hodgkins’ handwriting at Stewart's request and indeed concluded the signature had been forged.  It’s unclear, though, what bearing the allegation has on Hodgkins’ guilt, since he entered the plea in an open court hearing and acknowledged his guilt for the alleged offenses, and Moss ran through many of the provisions of the deal with him.

The judge didn’t opine directly on the forgery allegation Wednesday, but he did note that the reason “a lot of time” was spent on the colloquy with Hodgkins is to “guard against” subsequent claims that the defendant didn’t understand the agreement or the consequences of pleading guilty.  Moss also warned Stewart that by claiming the signature was forged she could be suggesting that her client lied under oath in his statements at the plea hearing in June....

Stewart’s allegation appeared to rankle prosecutor Mona Sedky, who called the Florida-based lawyer a “relatively new” attorney and said some of the messages she’d gotten from the lawyer were unconventional.  “I’ve been tolerant of a lot of very strange and and unorthodox communications, for lack of a better word, and I’ve been not putting it in my pleadings and not raising it with the court out of respect to her,” the prosecutor said.

Prior related posts on Hodgkins:

September 15, 2021 at 04:41 PM | Permalink

Comments

I have previously litigated a Federal habeas corpus case that led to the District Judge being reversed by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals for denying relief based upon ineffective assistance of counsel at plea bargaining, so I know this area of law well. These new allegations of forgery seem far-fetched, particularly in light of the fact that the Judge reviewed the plea agreement in detail with the defendant in open court at the time he changed his plea to guilty. Also, defense counsel says he thoroughly reviewed the plea agreement with defendant line-by-line and watched him sign it, so it is hard to believe that a handwriting expert says the signature is a forgery. If the matter goes forward, I would expect that the Government would retain its own hand-writing expert to render an opinion about the contested signature. In the end, I don't see the Judge overturning the plea or permitting the defendant to withdraw it. This is also a curiosity, since the Judge sentenced the defendant to only 8 months in prison, despite the Government's request for 16 months. If the Defendant succeeds in withdrawing his plea, he will most likely end up with a much longer sentence the next time around, perhaps after a jury trial. I have only seen one stranger request to withdraw a guilty plea, but that one was granted. In that case, the defendant testified at his habeas corpus case that he recognized only his signature on the plea agreement because he is demonstrably illiterate and his attorney did not read the plea agreement aloud to him before getting him to sign it! He really did not understand what he was agreeing to when he signed that plea agreement, which led to a life sentence for transporting thousands of kilos of cocaine up the East Coast from Miami over a period of years! He was an illiterate drug mule driver who got caught.

Posted by: Jim Gormley | Sep 15, 2021 6:26:17 PM

Ah, the Mike Flynn gambit.

Sorry, Barr is not longer the AG.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 15, 2021 9:09:20 PM

Joe, I had the exact same thought.

Or maybe it’s the CyberNinjas defense. Will they be claiming to have found bamboo fiber in the plea document next?

But we shouldn’t be concerned about this. Rachel Barkow assured us these folks have learned their lessons. Who are we to question that conclusion, just based on all the contrary evidence we can readily observe? (And yes, clowning on that will never get old for me!)

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 16, 2021 12:03:16 AM

It makes me wonder who this expert is. Is this somebody who has a solid reputation or somebody with a history of shoddy analysis who will say anything that the party that retained them wants?

I don't practice in federal criminal court, but I know that, in my state, we have moved away from having defendants sign plea agreements and instead just go over the terms in open court. Even if there is a signed plea agreement, the plea hearing controls.

In any case, filing this type of motion just increases the likelihood of the government appealing the sentence.

Posted by: tmm | Sep 16, 2021 10:14:09 AM

If recent news reports are to be believed, the expert seems dodgy AF. What a surprise right!? According to the linked article below, he's been Dauberted previously in at least three different states. It also seems like he just narrowly missed that fate in the case the article discusses.

https://www.al.com/live/2012/04/state_bar_rejects_complaint_ag.html

Coincidentally, amendments were recently proposed for Rule 702 that are intended to crack down on just this kind of sketchy forensic testimony.

I also agree it makes sense to always revisit best practices for handling plea agreements/hearings. But that and the discussion of this particular expert's qualifications seem quite beside the point in this context. When the 1/6 insurrectionists (I'm a broken record on this, but they are *not* mere "rioters" and the blog's ongoing refusal to recognize this—even if the excuse here is the OP is just following the quoted article's characterization—is getting close to deliberate misinformation) are involved, you can be sure the arguments are 100% frivolous. With any luck the judge will see this and not only reject the challenge out of hand, but also jack up the sentence.

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 16, 2021 1:10:16 PM

honestly, everyone is coming off badly here: old counsel for dumping on his former client, new retained counsel for presenting a ludicrous claim, expert for being a sham, defendant for lying, AUSA for big-timing retained counsel.

Posted by: afpd | Sep 16, 2021 1:15:07 PM

afpd: I agree with you on points (2)-(4), but do you see how it's impossible for those to be true and (1) also be true? Likewise, it seems to me the AUSA is displaying excessive restraint, as opposed to what I suspect the meaning of "big-timing" is (sorry, but I'm just not up on the kids' lingo these days!).

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 16, 2021 1:48:27 PM

prior counsel should not be commenting on his former client in any way absent a court order to do so, especially not to accuse him of lying now.

Posted by: afpd | Sep 16, 2021 1:58:09 PM

Since everyone in US law knows that Federal prosecutors (especially though we have to include state ones) are corrupt cretins who will do absolutely anything to convict anyone they have deemed to be guilty before trial, this comes as no surprise to any one of us. These horrible people will lie, hide evidence, threaten you, threaten your wife, kids, even your grandparents, in order to get a plea deal. They will lock you up for years until you capitulate. This is there MO. We all wish the latest victim of this horrid corrupt system the best of luck in his attempt to overturn this bogus, unjust, nonsense plea deal and subsequent conviction.

Posted by: restless94110 | Sep 16, 2021 2:30:56 PM

I overall respect Rachel Barkow, even if what is being referenced (apparently something addressed here in the past) included some too one-sided in a certain direction comments.

I find the Flynn shenanigans a basic low point of the Trump years, from the judge allowing his case to linger on so long (something like two years) and so on. He got a very good deal from what I can tell given what he could have been charged for, but oh sorry, even a slap on the wrist is too much.

As with trolling about pardons, this sort of thing just makes it harder to actually promote a Barkow-like approach to criminal justice. I'm not surprised that the sort of litigant found in these cases will act this way, but it has to be treated strictly to avoid unwarranted gaming of the system.

He received a below-guidelines sentence. This is not just token behavior, putting aside the sentiment nothing here is really token.

"Hodgkins was charged with felony obstruction of Congress for breaching the Capitol and making his way to the floor of the Senate, where images show him donning gloves and rifling through some papers left in the evacuated room."

Pleas in various cases are unfair but this doesn't look like one of them.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 16, 2021 7:14:28 PM

afpd: Sorry, that doesn't make sense. You and I both agree the defendant is lying, the judge apparently agrees too, and it's also pretty clear to anyone else who's not into mainlining Ivermectin. Not only is the defendant lying, but that lie also implies that his ex-counsel committed or was at least involved in quite severe misconduct—signature forgery. So, the ex-counsel is not "dumping" on the defendant. He's simply rebutting a very serious accusation, and one that everybody here already agrees is false. That is totally reasonable and appropriate behavior. Also, as a purely legal matter, you're not right either. What ex-counsel is doing falls quite comfortably into the scope of Rule 1.6(b)(5), which doesn't require a court order. You can also refer to pages 714-16 of the article linked below. If you look up his ex-counsel, LeDuc, he's a well-seasoned attorney and obviously knows this stuff cold. Finally, the actual disclosures that LeDuc made were quite minimal. All he said about the accusation was that it's "insane"—and it clearly is. Otherwise, he just gave a brief description of his process—not even confidential communications really—for reviewing the plea agreement with the defendant. I would imagine the review process was brought up at the plea colloquy too, so it's pretty much public record anyway.

http://fordhamlawreview.org/wp-content/uploads/assets/pdfs/Vol_79/8_Newmark_Nov_79.pdf

Joe: I know nothing about Barkow aside from that remark. She may otherwise be doing excellent work, and if so that's great. But boneheaded statements like that are just unforgiveable—and quite dangerous—so I'll continue to hammer that one for some time to come.

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 16, 2021 11:42:01 PM

"Joe: I know nothing about Barkow aside from that remark. She may otherwise be doing excellent work, and if so that's great. But boneheaded statements like that are just unforgiveable—and quite dangerous—so I'll continue to hammer that one for some time to come."

Others know her more, but I did read her book & some other stuff she wrote. And, I'm overall sympathetic with her overall mission, so to speak. But, I understand your concerns.

I'm not sure how much she harped on the theme. So, I'm less inclined to hang on to it but again I understand your concerns, I think.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 17, 2021 11:27:23 AM

Joe, I completely understand your take, and I would probably be well served to study up on what Barkow is doing in other areas. The constructive discussion is much appreciated, that being so rare on the interwebs these days, so thank you. Have a great weekend!

Posted by: kotodama | Sep 17, 2021 4:59:05 PM

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