Local Politics

Black's attorneys hope for commuted sentence

Posted June 10, 2009 7:42 p.m. EDT

— Attorneys for former House Speaker Jim Black say he's served enough time for a political corruption conviction.

Black, 74, is serving a 63-month sentence at a federal prison camp in Lewisburg, Pa., following his 2007 guilty plea to charges he accepted illegal campaign contributions from chiropractors in exchange for supporting legislation favorable to the industry.

His attorneys have asked President Barack Obama to commute his sentence or at least move him closer to his home in Matthews. His health is poor, and his wife, Betty, suffers from Lou Gehrig's disease, attorney Whit Powell said.

"We're not asking that he be pardoned. Dr. Black doesn't come into this saying, 'I'm a victim.' It's not that situation at all," Powell said.

He noted that Black has served two years of the sentence, has paid more than $1 million in fines and is incarcerated more than 500 miles from home.

"He's paid a heavy, heavy sentence, and we're looking for the president and the Bureau of Prisons to look at all of the 74 years of his life and not just the time that led to his incarceration," Powell said.

Friends and colleagues – Black formerly worked as an optometrist – have written letters of support for shortening the prison sentence or moving Black to a federal prison in the Carolinas.

"We've been inundated with letters from all over the state," Powell said.

The letter-writers acknowledge Black's crimes but say there's much more to his life, he said.

Black knows he has critics who don't want an early release, but Powell said he hopes even the toughest critics can forgive.

There's no time frame for when Obama or federal prison officials might act on the request.

Black also pleaded guilty to state bribery and obstruction of justice charges. The first charge stemmed from payments to a former Republican lawmaker who switched parties to help Black retain power in a divided House in 2003. The second charge stemmed from efforts to get chiropractors to temper any statements to federal and state investigators.

The prison sentences on the state charges ran at the same time as Black's federal sentence and have been completed.