WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court today reversed the conviction of former White House political director Lyn Nofziger, who was found guilty of illegal lobbying after he left the Reagan Administration.
Nofziger was convicted Feb. 11, 1988, of three counts of illegally lobbying top presidential aides on behalf of private clients after he left the White House one year into the Ronald Reagan Administration.
In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was required to prove that Nofziger had knowledge of all the facts that made his conduct criminal. "Because the government offered no evidence demonstrating that Nofziger possessed such knowledge, we reverse his conviction," the court said.
'Knowledge of Facts' Necessary
The reversal revolves around provisions of the Ethics in Government Act, which imposes a one-year ban on lobbying former government colleagues once a person leaves service in the Executive Branch.
"We interpret" the law "as requiring the government to demonstrate that Nofziger had knowledge of the facts that made his conduct criminal," said the majority opinion written by appeals court Judge James L. Buckley.
"The (U.S.) District Court should have dismissed the indictment filed by the prosecution because it failed to impose this burden on the government," said Buckley, who was joined by appeals court Judge Stephen Williams.
The appeals court remanded the case to the federal District Court "for proceedings consistent with this opinion."
In a dissenting opinion, appeals court Judge Harry Edwards said that "the majority has labored mightily to find an ambiguity" in the ethics law.
Appointed by Reagan
Buckley, a former Republican senator from New York, and Williams, a one-time assistant U.S. attorney and law professor, both were appointed to the bench by Reagan and are regarded as staunch conservatives.
Edwards, a former Harvard law professor listed as a political independent, was named to the bench by then-President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat.
The federal ethics law imposes the one-year lobbying ban on anyone who "knowingly acts as agent or attorney" before his former government department or agency.
Nofziger argued that the government had to show that he knew it was illegal to write letters lobbying his old colleagues at the White House.
A federal court jury found Nofziger guilty of illegally using his influence by sending an April 8, 1982, memo to then-presidential counselor Edwin Meese III.
The memo suggested that Meese enlist the support of President Reagan and others to persuade the Army to give a no-bid contract to build small gasoline engines to Wedtech Corp., a scandal-plagued company in the Bronx, N.Y.
Nofziger was also convicted of sending an Aug. 20, 1982, memo to James Jenkins, Meese's deputy, urging the Administration to put civilian sailors on Navy vessels. The policy was being pushed by the Marine Engineers Beneficial Assn., which paid Nofziger's lobbying firm $100,000 a year.
Nofziger was sentenced to 90 days in prison and fined $30,000. He has said his lobbying business was seriously harmed by the investigation and ensuing criminal prosecution.