Former D.C. Superior Court Judge Robert H. Campbell was indicted by a federal grand jury here yesterday for allegedly dismissing hundreds of thousands of dollars in traffic fines for a local construction firm in return for small amounts of cash and gifts, including liquor, topsoil and a rototiller.
The indictment of Campbell on racketeering and bribery charges is believed to mark the first time that a felony charge has been brought against a Washington judge for allegedly corrupt judicial conduct.
Also named in the four-court indictment returned yesterday in U.S. District Court were Larry A. Campbell (not related to the former judge), who is general manager of Excavation Construction Inc., and the company itself.
The 25-page indictment alleges a 12-year, corrupt partnership between the judge and the firm that circumvented the law in an almost routine and casual manner.
Judge Campbell would volunteer his influence, the indictment alleged, and request specific favors in return. He would act within days of receiving the gifts, and in at least two instances, orders releasing impounded dump trucks were signed in the judge's chambers and immediately returned to a company employe, according to the indictment.
Campbell abruptly retired from the bench on a full medical disability in December 1978. At that time, he had been under investigation by both the grand jury and city's judicial tenure commission.
Campbell received at least $20,000 in cash, goods and services from the firm, ranging from a rototiller to cases of liquor, in return for his dismissal in Superior Court of 1,064 tickets issued to the firm for violation of a city law that regulates overweight trucks, the indictment alleges. The fines for the violations ranged from $100 to $300 each.
The grand jury charged that Excavation Construction made the payments to Campbell to "escape and avoid compliance with" those laws. In return for payment of the "multiple bribes," the indictment alleged, the construction firm would receive "time-to-time, favorable, preferential, lenient and corrupt treatment" from the judge.
Judge Campbell would occasionally solicit the alleged bribes from company officials to pay his personal bills and would at other times tell the firm in advance when he would be sitting in traffic court so he could dispose of the firm's traffic tickets, the indictment continued.
Judge Campbell, who in the past has denied any wrongdoing in his handling of traffic violations, could not be reached for comment late yesterday. Arnold M. Weiner, the Baltimore attorney who represents Larry Campbell, said his client "denies the allegations and he looks forward to the opportunity to have them disproved in court."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Theodore A. Shmanda of the major crimes division of the prosecutor's office, who conducted the investigation along with FBI special agent John David Stapleton, declined to comment on the indictment. It was returned late yesterday following a two-year investigation.
The indictment is the latest in a series of legal troubles for the firm, which has figured in a number of law enforcement investigations over the past three years.
Three former business associates of Larry Campbell and company coowner John W. Lyon, including corporate secretary Robert P. Jenkins, have been convicted of federal offenses.
Jenkins was found guilty last December of lying to the grand jury investigating the arrangements between Excavation Construction and Judge Campbell.
Earlier last year, two blacks, Raymond L. Rice and Jesse G. Williams, were convicted of posing as owners of a minority small business actually controlled by Lyon and Campbell, both whites, in order to obtain a $2.5 million federal contract set aside for small businesses.
Last September, Excavation Construction filled for voluntary reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws, blaming the firm's financial troubles in part on a "cloud of suspicion" arising from the various investigations.
According to the indictment, the conspiracy between the firm and former Judge Campbell, 57, began in October 1966, when Larry Campbell gave the firm's truck superintendent an envelope containing some cash and told him to give it to Campbell, who at the time was a lawyer in the D.C. prosecutor's office. Robert Campbell took the money, the indictment alleged.
In April 1970, the grand jury charged, the firm's corporate secretary, Jenkins, made a payment of $3,500 to Robert Campbell.
Jenkins is known to be cooperating with federal prosecutors after being convicted of lying to the grand jury.
The indictment alleges that the next payment was made by Jenkins in April 1975 for $2,500. Then, the indictment charges, Campbell in August 1975 reportedly asked the frim to help him move his furnishings from a house at 6500 Seventh St. NW to his current home at 2130 Sudbury Place NW. According to the indictment, the firm had its employes use a truck rented with one of the firm's corporate credit cards to carry out the move.
The Washington Post first reported in August 1978 that Excavation Construction had moved the judge's furnishings after learning of it from company employes.
In addition to the free move, valued at about $300 to $500, the company later delivered three truckloads of topsoil to the former judge's new home and gave him a rototiller, a mechanical garden cultivator, the indictment said.
Some of the alleged payments came just days before or after Judge Campbell dismissed the firm's overweight truck tickets, according to the indictment.
For example, the firm supposedly made a $1,750 payment to the judge on Jan. 13, 1976, and 13 days later the judge fixed 78 tickets involving the firm's operations, the indictment alleged.
On other occasions, Judge Campbell would improperly order the release of trucks owned by the construction firm that had been seized by the police for nonpayment of fines, the indictment said.
In addition, the grand jury charged, Campbell would issue orders directing that the collateral posted and forfeited by the firm for previous tickets be returned.
The indictment alleges that the last cash payment to the former judge was $500 handed to him by Jenkins on June 29, 1977. At other times between 1975 and June 29, 1978, Jenkins also gave the judge "several cases of liquor," the indictment said.
Campbell was appointed to the D.C. Superior Court bench by president Richard Nixon on July 28, 1972, and he regularly sat as the presiding judge in the traffic branch of the local court.
In 1978, Campbell came under investigation by the FBI, the federal grand jury and the D.C. Judicial Disabilities and Tenure Commission. He resigned from the court, with full medical benefits, nine months after those investigations became public.
The former judge, Excavation Construction's general manager, and the corporation itself were indicted for conspiracy to violate federal antiracketeering statutes, conspiracy to violate federal bribery statutes and specific charges of bribery.
In addition, the firm and Larry Campbell were charged under federal law that would allow the government to seize Campbell's assets in the company, of which he is half-owner, if he is convicted of the charges.
Lawyers who practice in the local court have long maintained that tickets were frequently adjusted in the corporation counsel's office for police officers and court employes, many of whom would argue that their vehicles had been ticketed while they were on official business.
Campbell's critics complained that as a judge, he often doled out harsh and seemingly arbitrary treatment to persons who appeared before him in traffic court, where he presided off and on for 22 months from 1973 to 1978. By his own estimate, Campbell handled up to 100,000 cases during that period.
Jurisdiction over all but the most serious traffic cases was switched from Superior Court in 1979 to a civilian adjudication board. The change was welcomed at the local court, where judges considered an assignment to traffic court a tedious trying experience.