Ex-Judge Denied Prison Release Despite COVID-19 Fears

By Clark Mindock
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Law360 (May 21, 2020, 7:48 PM EDT) -- Granting compassionate release to a former Texas state judge convicted of accepting bribes in return for favorable rulings would be a "travesty of justice" despite the considerable health risks he faces in prison due to COVID-19, a federal judge has ruled.

Noting that 67-year-old Rodolfo "Rudy" Delgado has served just six months of a five-year sentence, U.S. District Judge Alfred H. Bennett said Tuesday that he couldn't reduce his sentence because of the severity of the crimes that landed him behind bars.

Judge Bennett said he made the decision even after taking into account Delgado's age and diagnosis of hyperglycemia, hypertension and hypercholesterolemia, which would classify him as high-risk under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The "court finds that the COVID-19-related reasons offered by defendant do not constitute 'extraordinary and compelling' reasons that warrant a sentence reduction" to time served, he wrote.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment. Delgado's attorney did not return requests for comment.

Delgado first asked to be sent home on April 1, when he verbally asked his case manager for the relief. Two days later, he submitted a written request that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons grant him home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic, consistent with authorities stemming from a March directive on the matter from U.S. Attorney General William Barr and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act.

The request was denied May 5, and Delgado was told at the time that he could appeal the decision but that he would need to fill out a new form.

Judge Bennett said Delgado did not fill out that form before filing his emergency request in the federal court, but that he had essentially exhausted administrative remedies because he could have reasonably assumed BOP would not have reduced his sentence after refusing to send him home once already.

Delgado, who served on the 93rd District Court in Hidalgo County before he was sworn in as a justice on the state's Thirteenth Court of Appeals, was convicted in July 2019 after an FBI sting involving a wired-up criminal defense attorney.

The sting and Delgado's arrest came after a source had worked with federal investigators for over a year recording phone calls and in-person conversations with Delgado. During the sting, Delgado was told to follow the attorney to his car, where he accepted a $5,500 bribe in exchange for help with his client's case.

The court found him guilty on one count of conspiracy, three counts of federal program bribery, three counts of Travel Act bribery and one count of obstruction of justice.

In his request for emergency release, Delgado claimed that he has a job in prison cleaning the compound with a broom and dustpan. He also said he is enrolled in a spiritual program and in one to address his alcohol use.

The government is represented by Arthur "Rob" Jones and Robert Guerra of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Texas and Peter Nothstein of the U.S. Department of Justice's Public Integrity Section.

Delgado is represented by Michael W. McCrum of McCrum Law Office.

The case is U.S. v. Delgado, case number 18-cr-00115, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

--Additional reporting by Dave Simpson. Editing by Orlando Lorenzo.

Update: This story has been updated with response from DOJ.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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