Turning of tide leaves a happy clam
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Thursday, August 23, 2007
"It's not over."
That's what Joe Nacchio told me on his way out of court on July
Judge Edward Nottingham had just sentenced him to six years in
prison and ordered him to report within 45 days for his
conviction on 19 insider-trading counts.
I figured I'd soon be sending the former Qwest chief executive
some comic books and a carton of Marlboros -- for old times'
sake -- and, of course, asking him for a jailhouse interview.
But apparently, not everything that spills from the former Qwest
CEO's mouth is hype.
Joe was right. It's really not over.
On Wednesday, a federal appeals court ruled that Nacchio can
remain free pending appeal, overturning one of the most dramatic
portions of Judge Nottingham's sentencing order.
Nottingham had told members of Nacchio's legal team he didn't
think they had significant legal grounds for an appeal. He took
the time to attack their appellate arguments, one by one, before
sending Nacchio up the river.
The appellate court -- at least on its initial glance at the
case -- begs to differ.
"It could mean that they see some reasonable chance of success
on appeal," said Anthony Accetta, a former federal prosecutor
who helped cover Nacchio's trial for The Denver Post. "But the
appeal really isn't mature yet, so we don't know."
The court said it would expedite Nacchio's case, setting oral
arguments for mid-December. This buys yet another Merry
Christmas for Nacchio, whose alleged crimes date to 2001.
Nacchio has got to be jumping for joy. His lawyers are.
Nacchio's lead trial attorney, former federal Judge Herbert
Stern, took quite a browbeating from Nottingham throughout the
trial and during the sentencing.
He's elated at this turning of the tide.
So is Maureen Mahoney, Nacchio's new hotshot Washington,
D.C.-based appeals attorney. She is renowned for getting the
U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the obstruction-of-justice
verdict against accounting firm Arthur Andersen. She may soon
be known in Colorado as the lady who freed Nacchio.
"Maureen Mahoney and I are deeply gratified by the action of the
Court of Appeals today," Stern said. "And we very much look
forward to appealing before the court."
Phone-company retirees, who lost fortunes at Qwest and
celebrated Nacchio's prison sentence, are not pleased.
"They're furious. Absolutely furious," said Mimi Hull,
president of the Association of US West Retirees. "One just
e-mailed me and said, 'Prosecutors did their job, the judge did
his job, the jurors did their job. How come the appellate court
didn't do its job?' It looks like you can buy your way out of
the justice system -- if you've got enough money to buy a good
Also not pleased is U.S. Attorney Troy Eid. "We hope the
defendant will start serving his sentence as soon as possible,"
he said in a statement Wednesday.
Well, "as soon as possible" is now several more months away --
For Nacchio, who never took the stand during his trial or
sentencing, it must feel a lot like vindication.
"Knowing him, he's thinking now that the whole thing has turned
his way," Hull said. "He's probably happy as a clam."
Make that two clams. On Aug. 10, 9News reported that the judge
who sentenced Nacchio was once too drunk to remember how he
spent more than $3,000 at a Denver strip club.
The TV station got ahold of a transcript from Nottingham's messy
divorce case where the judge was asked about his strip-club
charges and his possible use of his workplace computer to tap an
online dating site that links to pornography.
This embarrassing disclosure came on the heels of the most
high-profile case Nottingham had ever handled and made for
Legal experts tell me these disclosures likely had no bearing on
the appellate court's decision, the integrity of the Nacchio
verdict or even Nacchio's chances for appeal.
But after the long-winded lecture Nottingham gave Nacchio about
morality and being a good Catholic, well, Nacchio's got to be
laughing at this judge by now. It's not over. Stay tuned.
Al Lewis' column regularly appears Sundays, Tuesdays and
Fridays. Respond to him at
denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-954-1967 or