A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday upheld a lower-court ruling rejecting former Arkansas state Sen. Jon Wood’s request for a new trial after his conviction in a bribery and kickback scheme.
Woods, who is serving an 18-year, four-month sentence, argued that he should receive a new trial based on newly-discovered evidence.
However, the panel agreed with U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Arkansas Timothy Brooks that the evidence was neither material nor exculpatory.
Woods, a Republican from Springdale, was found guilty in 2018 of 15 counts of public corruption in the kickback scheme involving state tax dollars. In addition to prison time, a judge ordered him to pay $1.6 million in restitution to the state.
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The federal probe ensnared four other state legislators who pleaded guilty or were convicted as well as more than a dozen others outside of state government who benefited from the scheme, mostly employees of Missouri nonprofit Preferred Family Healthcare.
Wood’s appeal for a new trial raised two main points.
First, he argued former state Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson, R-Little Rock, provided federal investigators with information about Woods that was protected by attorney-client privilege. (Hutchinson is the nephew of Gov. Asa Hutchinson. He pleaded guilty to accepting bribes in 2019 and is awaiting sentencing.)
The 8th Circuit panel rejected this argument, ruling that one individual’s attorney-client privilege does not extend to others.
Second, Woods argued that a federal investigator’s notes of an interview with Hutchinson were withheld. Those notes, Woods claimed, showed that his future wife, Christina Mitchell, was vetted and qualified for a job that federal prosecutors alleged she received as part of the kickback scheme in exchange for Woods directing public funds to the organization.
The federal appellate panel ruled the evidence was not material “because it does little to show the absence of a quid pro quo exchange.”
The Wednesday opinion also noted that a witness at the trial testified that Mitchell was the most qualified applicant and that prosecutors never argued that she was unqualified.
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