Moss sentenced Hodgkins in July to eight months in prison, well below the government-recommended 16-month sentence, an acknowledgment that Hodgkins was among the first to accept responsibility for his role in the offense. But Hodgkins’ new claim puts the case in turmoil.
Hodgkins had asked Moss to postpone his jail term, which is due to start Sept. 20, until January, giving him time to redouble his efforts to unwind the plea deal. But Moss rejected the attempt on Wednesday afternoon, saying Hodgkins “has failed to show just cause for the requested four-month delay.”
His new attorney, Carolyn Stewart, made the infringement allegation during a hearing convened by Moss to respond to Hodgkins’ claim that Leduc had provided ineffective attorney. She said she retained writing expert Curt Baggett to review the document and confirmed that it was not Hodgkins’ signature on the deal. Baggett, she said, would be prepared to testify in court.
Stewart suggested that the allegedly forged signature was one of the many irregularities plaguing the deal.
“It’s mind-boggling,” said the defense lawyer, noting that she was sensitive to such patterns because of her work as an intelligence analyst in Afghanistan. “This stuff just keeps popping up … I’m devastated.”
LeDuc said in an email to POLITICO that the claim of a forged signature was “insane” and that he had scrutinized the agreement with Hodgkins.
“I went through every line of this 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 shape too, he said. Nothing happened in the case without Paul’s consent. I don’t understand any of this. It’s crazy and I’m so over it all. “
In a telephone interview, Baggett confirmed that he performed the analysis of Hodgkins’ handwriting at Stewart’s request and did indeed conclude that the signature had been forged.
It is unclear, however, what the allegation has about Hodgkins’ guilt, as he pleaded at a public hearing and admitted his guilt for the alleged offenses, and Moss has gone through many of the provisions of the agree with him.
The judge did not rule directly on the infringement allegation on Wednesday, but noted that the reason “a lot of time” was spent in the colloquy with Hodgkins is to “guard against” subsequent allegations that the defendant did not understand the agreement. or the consequences of a guilty plea.
Moss also warned Stewart that by claiming the signature was forged she could suggest that her client had lied under oath in her statements during the plea hearing in June.
“In fact, I’m afraid that in some sense you are putting him at risk with this,” said the judge, a person appointed by former President Barack Obama.
Stewart’s allegation appeared to upset prosecutor Mona Sedky, who called the Florida-based lawyer a “relatively new” lawyer and said some of the messages she received from the lawyer were unconventional .
“I tolerated a lot of very strange and unorthodox communications, for lack of a better word, and I did not put it in my pleadings and I did not raise it in court out of respect for her,” said said the prosecutor.
Florida records show that Stewart, who is based in Plant City, near Tampa, joined the bar late last year. She filed a notice with the court last month saying she was taking over as Hodgkins’ defense attorney.
Stewart seeks to appeal Hodgkins’ conviction and sentence. However, the deadline for filing an appeal expired last month. Stewart has also indicated his intention to file a habeas corpus petition attacking Hodgkins’ conviction.
The lawyer said when the infringement charge arose she wanted to bring it to the attention of the court as quickly as possible, but Moss said he saw no urgency to act.
“I can’t see enough based on what I know now to think there is something I need to do that I haven’t been asked to do,” the judge said.
At the start of the approximately 20-minute videoconference hearing, Stewart requested that the public telephone line be cut and that the session be held under seal.
Asked by Moss to justify the secrecy, Stewart said: “This is a lawyer and this is a fraud allegation on the court with a forgery. I’m doing this out of courtesy knowing it’s public. He’s not here.”
However, the judge said that was not a sufficient basis to close the session to the public.