A U.S. Court of Appeals panel, ruling for the first time that two juries may be used to hear evidence against codefendants in a single trial, yesterday upheld the bribery and conspiracy convictions of former D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control board chairman Robert C. Lewis, former ABC staff director James E. Boardley and bar owner Tommy M. Motlagh.
In an opinion by Judge J. Skelly Wright, the three-judge panel ruled unanimously that apparently inconsistent verdicts by the juries did not violate the defendants' rights.
Lewis, Boardley and Motlagh were convicted in April 1982 of involvement in a scheme in which the D.C. officials used their positions to pressure officials at the Hechinger Mall to give Motlagh a lease for a liquor store, the appeals panel said. In exchange, Motlagh agreed to provide them with a secret interest in the profits of the store.
The scheme "unraveled," the panel said, when a Hechinger employe notified authorities of the plan.
Lawyers for all three appealed the convictions because of U.S. District Court Judge Charles R. Richey's decision to use two juries--one for the D.C. officials and one for Motlagh--to sit together to hear the evidence regarding all three men and then excusing one jury or another when evidence was presented involving only Motlagh or the officials.
The lawyers also argued that the verdicts were inconsistent in that one jury convicted Lewis and Boardley of one charge of conspiracy to commit bribery, but Motlagh's jury acquitted him of the same charge. At the same time, Motlagh's jury convicted him of another conspiracy charge while the D.C. officials' jury acquitted them of the same charge.
The appeals panel said that the juries could have reached different conclusions on the various counts because each jury heard different evidence in the case.
The panel said that while the novel dual-jury procedure increased the risks of confusion and uncertainty, that should not "deter courts from implementing innovative, resource-saving measures . . . so long as these procedures are administered carefully. . . . "
In June 1982, Richey sentenced Lewis to six months in prison and to pay a $10,000 fine. Boardley was sentenced to four months in prison and fined $5,000, and Motlagh was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $5,000. In addition, all three were ordered to serve five years on probation and to donate 100 hours to public service.
Lewis, Boardley and Motlagh have been free pending the appeal handed down yesterday. Lewis and Boardley's lawyers could not be reached for comment on whether they would appeal the panel decision to the full 11-member appeals court or to the U.S. Supreme Court. Motlagh's attorney said no decision had been made on whether to appeal the ruling.
If no appeals are filed, all three men could be ordered to begin serving their sentences as early as next month.