Citing procedural error, a federal appeals panel has overturned the controversial sentence U.S. District Judge Manuel Real imposed on an admitted con man who bilked scores of people out of millions of dollars by offering investments in a sham TV series about the Department of Homeland Security.
The 3-0 ruling is one of several recent judicial rebukes of the veteran judge by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And it means that Joseph Medawar, who was sentenced in December 2006 to serve a year and a day in prison, could face more time in custody.
Medawar, a onetime Hollywood producer, avoided trial by pleading guilty to income tax evasion and conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Federal prosecutors sought a sentence of 57 months; even Medawar's trial attorney requested 33 months.
But when Medawar, 46, appeared for sentencing, the judge imposed his own, much shorter term. Though Medawar was also ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution and to perform 3,000 hours of community service, his prison sentence outraged victims of the fraud.
Ruling this week on an appeal filed by the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, the 9th Circuit panel concluded that Real erred by not calculating Medawar's term under federal sentencing guidelines and by failing to consider other sentencing factors established under federal law.
Moreover, the panel said, Real did not provide a "significant justification" for imposing a sentence far below the range of 57 to 71 months set under the guidelines.
Last year, the judicial council of the 9th Circuit reprimanded Real, a federal judge in L.A. since 1966, on the grounds that he had exhibited a "pattern and practice of not providing reasons for his decisions when required to do so."
The appellate panel did not address the government's request to provide Real with guidance on the "lower limits of a reasonable sentence." That left open the possibility that the judge could again issue a lighter penalty but this time provide a justification for it.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said it had no comment. Medawar's attorney, Darryl Snider, said: "We are very happy with the court's ruling. The 9th Circuit has done what was expected in sending the case back to Judge Real for further explanation of his reasoning."