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United States v. Woodward

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

October 18, 2017




         Francis H. Woodward has filed another petition for a writ of error coram nobis pursuant to the All Writs Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1651, seeking to vacate and expunge his convictions for honest services mail and wire fraud committed while he was in a leadership position in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

         I denied Woodward's first coram nobis petition on October 10, 2012, finding that the demands of justice did not justify relief. United States v. Woodward, No. CIV.A. 12-11431-DPW, 2012 WL 4856055, at *9 (D. Mass. Oct. 10, 2012). Woodward bases this second petition primarily on the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2355 (2016).

         While acknowledging the narrowing legal grounds upon which his convictions stand, I again find that the demands of justice do not justify relief.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Facts

         Woodward was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1977 and served as the House Chair of the Joint Committee on Insurance from January 1985 to January 1991. During the same period, William Sawyer worked as the senior legislative counsel for John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company, one of the two largest life insurance companies in Massachusetts, and participated, along with Hancock, in the Life Insurance Association of Massachusetts (“LIAM”), an industry trade association. Sawyer was “frequently present at Insurance Committee meetings” and was “the lobbyist who met most often with Woodward.” United States v. Woodward, 149 F.3d 46, 52 (1st Cir. 1998).

         From 1984 to 1992, Woodward received $8, 740 worth of gratuities from Sawyer, including meals, rounds of golf, travel expenses, and other entertainment. A year-by-year breakdown of the gratuities reveals what I previously described as a “suspicious pattern.” Woodward, 2012 WL 4856055, at *1. As the First Circuit recounted in rejecting Woodward's direct appeal from his convictions:

In 1984 and 1985, before Woodward became chair of the Committee and for the first year afterward, Woodward accepted gratuities in the range of $200-300 from Sawyer/Hancock. In 1986 there was a marked increase to $2, 527, including over $1, 800 to cover the air fare, hotel, and tickets (for him and his wife) to attend the Super Bowl in New Orleans. In 1987-91, Woodward received gratuities in the amount of $1, 547, $1, 093, $513, $1, 230, and $1, 324. Woodward served as committee chair during all but the last of these years. During his last four months in the legislature, January through April 1992, he received only $16, and his gratuities dropped to $0 after he resigned from office in April. After Woodward was replaced as committee chair by Rep. Francis Mara, Sawyer began wining and dining Mara in the same manner as he had Woodward.

Woodward, 149 F.3d at 53.

         In the years Woodward received these gratuities, he made decisions within the Insurance Committee that served the interests of Sawyer and Hancock. During the six years he served as co-chair, the committee considered approximately six hundred bills of interest to the life insurance industry. Woodward opposed the insurance industry's position on only thirty-one of those bills. And of those thirty-one bills, only three related to life insurance, the industry of particular importance to Hancock.

         Under Massachusetts law, Woodward had a duty to file a Statement of Financial Interests with the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission each year that disclosed “all gifts he or his immediate family received, aggregating more than $100 per year, from lobbyists or businesses that had a direct interest in legislation.” Woodward, 149 F.3d at 62 (citing Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 268B, ' 5). Woodward did not disclose in required filings any of the gratuities he received from Sawyer. He signed those statements under oath subject to penalties for perjury.

         B. Procedural History

         1. The Prosecution

         After his indictment in July 1995, Woodward was convicted following trial in this court in October 1996 of: one count of mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (Count 4); one count of wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (Count 9); two counts of interstate travel to commit bribery under the Travel Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1952 (Counts 14 and 24); and one count of conspiracy to commit these offenses under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (Count 1). Following the verdict, I granted judgment of acquittal on one (Count 24) of the Travel Act counts as duplicitous. On February 7, 1997, I sentenced Woodward to six months in a halfway house, supervised release of two years, and a $200 special assessment. The First Circuit affirmed. Woodward, 149 F.3d at 73.

         2. Collateral Attack Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255

         After Woodward's direct appeal was decided but before execution of his sentence began, in response to collateral attack under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, I vacated the convictions on Count 1 and Count 14 and ordered those counts dismissed in light of intervening interpretations of the federal and state gratuity statutes in United States v. Sun-Diamond Growers of California, 526 U.S. 398 (1999) and Scaccia v. State Ethics Commission, 727 N.E.2d 824 (Mass. 2000). United States v. Woodward, Civil Action No. 99-11132-DPW (D. Mass. Feb. 9, 2001). I then resentenced Woodward on February 12, 2001 to six months of community confinement, two years of supervised release, a $5, 000 fine, and a $100 special assessment. By order dated April 19, 2001, on the joint recommendation of the parties, I amended the judicial recommendation to provide for home confinement, rather than community confinement.

         3. The Pension Consequence

         On November 21, 2002, the Massachusetts State Board of Retirement rescinded Woodward's pension benefits pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws ch. 32 ' 15(4), which provides that “[i]n no event shall any member after final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to his office or position, be entitled to receive a retirement allowance.” The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the board's action against a challenge that it was time-barred. State Bd. of Retirement v. Woodward, 847 N.E.2d 298, 306 (Mass. 2006).

         4. Initial Collateral Attack by Petition for Coram Nobis

         Woodward filed his first petition for coram nobis relief in this court in February 2012. Woodward, 2012 WL 4856055, at *2. He argued, id. at *3, that his remaining convictions rested on legal theories rejected by the Supreme Court in Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358 (2010).

         Using the conventional three-part test for coram nobis relief to frame my analysis, I concluded Woodward could not satisfy two of the test's three prongs. Id. at *4. As to the first prong, I concluded Woodward's petition was untimely because it was filed more than twenty months after Skilling was decided, a delay I found to be unreasonable. Id. at *5. As to the third prong, I concluded that even after Skilling, a reasonable jury still could have concluded that Woodward's actions constituted bribery. Id. at *7-8. Moreover, I found that Woodward's violations of state disclosure requirements provided “an independent basis for denying coram nobis that is rooted entirely in considerations of justice.” Id. at *8.

         5. Further Legal Developments

         a. McDonnell

         Woodward's current petition rests primarily on the Supreme Court's subsequent decision in McDonnell v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2355 (2016). In McDonnell, the court reviewed former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell's conviction for bribery. 136 S.Ct. at 2361. Governor McDonnell and his wife received $175, 000 in loans and gifts from a Virginia businessman, Jonnie Williams, and in exchange, Governor McDonnell allegedly performed various tasks and favors to promote Williams' business. Id.

         Under relevant bribery law, the government was required to show that “Governor McDonnell committed or agreed to commit an ‘official act' in exchange for the loans and gifts from Williams.” Id. at 2365. The indictment charged Governor McDonnell with committing at least five “official acts, ” including “arranging meetings for [Williams] with Virginia government officials” and “hosting, and . . . attending, events at the Governor's Mansion” that were designed to promote Williams' business. Id. At trial, the judge instructed the jury that an “official ...

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