Ted Suhl, the former operator of behavioral health agencies in Arkansas who is now serving a federal prison sentence for bribing a state Human Services official, has picked up a prominent friend in his request that the U.S. Supreme Court hear his appeal. It’s an organization founded by lawyer James Bopp, a legal architect of the Citizens United decision that opened the flow of corporate money into politics and other legal efforts to weaken disclosure requirements on political spending.
A friend of the court brief has been filed in Suhl’s appeal by the James Madison Center, a nonprofit created by Bopp. Its uses its tax-deductible revenues to hire Bopp’s firm for legal cases from a conservative viewpoint. Plenty on Bopp in this Slate article. Bopp is also active in anti-abortion efforts. Suhl, whose residential treatment facility for youth was originally known as the Lord’s Ranch, was known as a conservative Christian and was influential in state efforts to prevent adoptions by gay people. Bopp, too, has supported Republican Party policies unfriendly to LGBT.
Suhl was convicted in July 2016 and sentenced to seven years for funneling money to Steven Jones, a former legislator
Bopp renews the argument in his friend-of-court brief. From his summary:
Allowing persons to be prosecuted for providing anything of value to a federal, state, or local official, with a mere intent to “influence” that official’s conduct, but absent an intent to engage in a specific quid-pro-quo arrangement, is a stunningly overbroad reading of the federal-programs bribery and honest services statutes. Such a reading would criminalize an endless swath of ordinary behavior involving government officials and employees, including a tremendous amount of behavior protected by the First Amendment. Attempting to “influence” government officials is much of the point of several clauses of the First Amendment, and anyone who has ever given “anything” of value to a government official or their family—a gift, dinner, a job or internship, a campaign contribution, public support or endorsement, etc. —would rightly be chilled from any further involvement in attempting to influence government action lest their earlier behavior be construed by a prosecutor or jury as intended to influence the recipient.
The government, in restating arguments it made to the 8th Circuit, addressed this point.
Petitioner also asserts that further review is warranted because the decision below threatens to criminalize legitimate campaign contributions and other innocent gifts to public officials. But that parade of horribles rests on the assertion that the court of appeals interpreted the relevant statutes to allow a bribery conviction “in the absence of an intended quid pro quo exchange.” It did not. Instead, the court merely determined that, when “[r]ead as a whole,” the instructions given here “fairly submitted the quid pro quo element to the jury.”
The government also noted that Suhl had testified in the trial that he had not paid Jones any money but had merely made bona fide payments to a church. The jury didn’t credit that testimony, the government argued.
The Supreme Court should decide this fall whether to hear an appeal in the case.
Suhl’s residential and community-based agencies operated largely on Medicaid funding. When the bribery charge developed, the state dropped the agency from its Medicaid program and they soon went out of business.