Michael A. Maggio (1961–)

Michael A. Maggio, a former Faulkner County circuit judge, was removed from office and later convicted in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas for accepting a bribe to reduce a nursing-home-negligence verdict and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. He was released in 2021.

Michael Maggio was born in 1961, the oldest of four children of Henry Anthony Maggio, who was a psychiatrist and medical officer in the U.S. Army, and Bobby Padgett Maggio. Born in southern Louisiana, he spent his early childhood there and in Texas before the family settled in southern Mississippi after his father opened a psychiatry practice in Gulfport, Mississippi. Maggio graduated from St. Stanislaus High School in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in 1979. He then attended Millsaps College and graduated in 1983 with majors in history and political science. He attended the University of Mississippi for his first two years of law school before transferring to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law to complete his studies, graduating in 1989.

Maggio served as a deputy prosecutor, a small-claims judge, and a special municipal judge. In 1998, Maggio lost an election for Conway City Council. In 2000, Governor Mike Huckabee appointed Maggio as circuit judge for the Twentieth Judicial District, starting in January 2001. He was reelected twice, remaining in that seat until his removal on September 11, 2014. In 2001, Maggio was selected to Arkansas Business’s “40 Under 40.”

In October 2010, Maggio was fined and issued a public letter of warning by the Arkansas Ethics Commission for paying his wife out of campaign funds and misreporting how the money was spent during his 2008 reelection campaign.

In May 2013, Maggio presided over a Faulkner County jury trial in which the family of Martha Bull sued Greenbrier Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for negligently causing Bull’s death in 2008. Bull entered the nursing home for what was supposed to be a thirty-day rehabilitation after suffering a mild stroke, but she died less than two weeks later. Despite her screams of pain, staff at the facility did not take her to a hospital. On May 16, 2013, the jury returned a $5.2 million judgment in favor of Bull. The following month, Maggio announced he was running for District 2, Position 1 on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.

On July 8, 2013, Maggio held a hearing on the nursing home’s motion for a reduced judgment. That same day, the office of Michael Morton, the owner of a large chain of nursing homes, including in Greenbrier (Faulkner County), made out checks for $30,000 to political action committees (PACs) controlled by Gilbert Baker of Conway (Faulkner County)—a lobbyist, former Republican state senator, former state Republican Party chairman, and a faculty member at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA)—that Baker intended to use to contribute to Maggio’s Court of Appeals campaign. On July 9, 2013, Maggio received $24,000 in campaign donations. The following day, Maggio reduced the judgment against the nursing home in the Bull case from $5.2 million to $1 million.

In March 2014, Maggio withdrew from the Court of Appeals race after Matt Campbell of the Blue Hog Report blog published a story accusing him of posting online about a sealed case in his court that involved the closed adoption of a child by actress Charlize Theron. Maggio admitted to making the posts at issue on Tiger Droppings, a website devoted to Louisiana State University football, with the profile name “geauxjudge” just days later, including the posts about Theron’s adoption as well as several others using racist, sexist, and explicit language.

On September 11, 2014, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued an opinion immediately removing Maggio from office. The Supreme Court had removed all cases from Maggio’s oversight while it investigated his conduct and concluded that “immediate removal is the just and proper sanction for the judge’s conduct.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating Maggio in 2014, and he pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe in exchange for reducing the jury verdict in the Bull case in the Eastern District of Arkansas in January 2015. He then unsuccessfully fought to withdraw his guilty plea, appealing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Maggio was sentenced to the maximum possible term of ten years and began serving his sentence in July 2017.

In July 2021, Maggio testified in the federal trial of Gilbert Baker in the Eastern District of Arkansas. Baker was charged with nine counts for allegedly acting as a middleman to bribe Maggio to reduce the verdict in the Martha Bull case. Maggio testified that he reduced the $5.2 million verdict both because he thought it was the right thing to do and because he accepted a bribe.

In August 2021, Baker was acquitted of conspiring to commit bribery, and the jury deadlocked on the other eight counts. Baker was set for retrial on those eight counts in May 2022, but it was postponed again by agreement between Baker’s lawyers and the prosecutor. Jury selection was slated to begin on November 7, 2022, the day before the Arkansas general election, but federal prosecutors asked for the case to be dismissed before the trial could start. The only related figure on the ballot that day was Supreme Court Justice Rhonda Wood, a close friend and collaborator of Maggio, although she was unopposed. Baker raised money for Wood’s race for the Arkansas Supreme Court in 2014 while he was raising money for Maggio, including from Michael Morton. Baker also collected $48,000 in campaign contributions from Morton for Wood’s race.

Maggio was released from federal prison on October 20, 2021, after serving four years of his ten-year sentence. On November 16, 2022, a federal judge granted his motion for an early end to his supervised release.

For additional information:
Campbell, Matt. “Who Have You Wronged, Mr. Maggio? Hog Nation Turns Its Angry Eyes to You. (Woo woo wooooo.).” Blue Hog Report, March 3, 2014. https://www.bluehogreport.com/2014/03/03/who-have-you-wronged-mr-maggio-hog-nation-turns-its-angry-eyes-to-you-woo-woo-wooooo/ (accessed October 28, 2022).

Ellis, Dale. “Retrial for Gilbert Baker on Federal Bribery Charges Set for May.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 14, 2021. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/sep/14/retrial-for-gilbert-baker-on-federal-bribery/ (accessed October 28, 2022).

Hale-Shelton, Debra. “No Delay; Former Arkansas Judge off to Prison.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, July 19, 2017. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2017/jul/19/no-delay-maggio-off-to-prison-20170719/ (accessed October 28, 2022).

Vrbin, Tess. “Bribery Case’s Maggio out of Prison.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, October 24, 2021. https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/oct/24/bribery-cases-maggio-out-of-prison/ (accessed October 28, 2022).

Michael Kiel Kaiser
Little Rock, Arkansas

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