A Maryland appellate court has ruled that a Prince George's County man who pleaded guilty to offering a $2,500 bribe to a county judge, cannot have the payoff money back.

The ruling Wednesday by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals overturned a decision last year by Prince George's county Circuit Court Judge Ernest Loveless Jr., who ordered the money returned to James L. Strickland.

The appellate court asserted that public "policy makes it unthinkable that courts of justice will aid a briber in recovering the money" he gave up to further "his unlawful venture."

Strickland pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years in prison in 1977 on charges of offering a bribe to District Court Judge Sylvania Woods to persuade Woods to show leniency toward a friend of Strickland, according to the appellate opinion.

Woods reported the offer to prosecutors and was asked to "play along" until the money was received, the opinion stated.

Three months after pleading guilty Strickland sought return of the $2,500, arguing that its retention by the state violated the Maryland Declaration of Rights, which provides that no conviction shall cause "forfeiture of estate." The Circuit Court judge ruled that for Maryland to keep the money was indeed a forfeiture, according to the appellate opinion.

The appeals court disagreed, asserting that Strickland "voluntarily relinguished" title to the money when he gave it to judge Woods, and because he had no title to it, there was nothing to forfeit.