Vick’s fate to be de­ter­mined by ‘tough but fair’ judge

The Covington News - - SPORTS - By Larry O’Dell

RICH­MOND, Va. — The judge who will de­ter­mine how much time Michael Vick spends in prison has shown lit­tle mercy over the years for high-profile de­fen­dants.

No­body knows this bet­ter than de­fense lawyer Robert H. Smal­len­berg.

In 2004, he rep­re­sented a city of­fi­cial who stole more than $1 mil­lion from Rich­mond tax­pay­ers. He was well aware U.S. Dis­trict Judge Henry E. Hud­son had earned a rep­u­ta­tion for hand­ing down stiff sen­tences.

“Tough but fair” is the de­scrip­tion most of­ten heard from lawyers who ap­pear be­fore Hud­son, who owns a bi­chon frise dog and de­clined to be in­ter­viewed.

“He’s a good trial judge, but on sen­tenc­ing he tends to be in the mid­dle or up­per range of the sen­tenc­ing guide­lines,” said at­tor­ney Murray Janus. “A lot of judges start at the low end. Not Judge Hud­son.”

Still, Smal­len­berg was caught off-guard by how hard Hud­son came down on his client. The judge sen­tenced Robert Evans to 10 years in prison — dou­ble what was called for un­der fed­eral sen­tenc­ing guide­lines — declar­ing “the abuse of trust here is ab­so­lutely im­mea­sur­able.”

“I wasn’t sur­prised he went above the guide­lines, but I was sur­prised he went that far,” Smal­len­berg said Thurs­day.

Based on his per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence, Smal­len­berg said he won’t be sur­prised if Hud­son takes a sim­i­larly tough po­si­tion in the case of NFL star Vick, who is sched­uled to plead guilty to a fed­eral dog­fight­ing con­spir­acy charge Mon­day.

A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause terms of the plea agree­ment are not fi­nal, has told The As­so­ci­ated Press prose­cu­tors will rec­om­mend a sen­tence of one year to 18 months. How­ever, the max­i­mum sen­tence is five years, and Hud­son is not bound by any rec­om­men­da­tion or by the fed­eral sen­tenc­ing guide­lines.

Vick’s lawyers will try for the short­est pos­si­ble sen­tence.

Rob Wag­ner, who leads the fed­eral pub­lic de­fender’s of­fice in Rich­mond, said de­fense at­tor­neys in Hud­son’s court­room face a rough road when ar­gu­ing mit­i­gat­ing fac­tors should re­sult in a sen­tence be­low the guide­line range.

“You know when you get Judge Hud­son he’s go­ing to take a tough line in sen­tenc­ing,” he said.

Since his in­dict­ment in July, the At­lanta Fal­cons quar­ter­back has be­come a pub­lic sym­bol of an­i­mal abuse. His al­ready­tar­nished im­age suf­fered even more when two co-de­fen­dants said Vick par­tic­i­pated in killing at least eight un­der­per­form­ing pit bulls.

Those men and a third code­fen­dant have pleaded guilty and were pre­pared to tes­tify against Vick had the case gone to trial.

Al­though the Vick case is the most sen­sa­tional one to come be­fore Hud­son since Pres­i­dent Bush ap­pointed him to the fed­eral bench in 2002, he’s han­dled cases in­volv­ing lo­cally prom­i­nent peo­ple.

In 2005, he sen­tenced for­mer state law­maker Fenton Bland to four years and nine months in prison for con­spir­acy to com­mit bank fraud, re­ject­ing a de­fense plea for a re­duced sen­tence so Bland could bet­ter care for his two young chil­dren.

“Was I sur­prised? No,” said Janus, who rep­re­sented Bland.

Janus also rep­re­sented H. Louis Salomon­sky, a prom­i­nent Rich­mond real es­tate de­vel­oper who pleaded guilty to try­ing to bribe a city coun­cil­woman. Hud­son sen­tenced Salomon­sky to two years. Even though prose­cu­tors and Janus asked for a re­duc­tion to one year, Hud­son only would cut the term to 18 months.

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