The Supreme Court refused Monday to disturb a ruling that overturned an influence peddling conviction of former Reagan White House aide Lyn Nofziger.
The justices, without comment, rejected the appeal brought by the independent counsel for the government, who was seeking to reinstate Nofziger's conviction.Nofziger's 1988 conviction was the first, and thus far the only, prosecution under the Ethics in Government Act of 1978, which prohibits senior officials who leave government from lobbying their former agencies for a year.
In a 2-1 decision in June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned his conviction, finding the law ambiguous.
In seeking high court review, independent counsel James McKay warned the ruling will seriously "impede prosecutions under the act" and "will reward purposeful ignorance or heedlessness."
Nofziger, a 65-year-old native Californian who helped Ronald Reagan capture the presidency in 1980 and served as special assistant for political affairs during Reagan's first term, was convicted on Feb. 11, 1988, on three counts of illegal lobbying for the scandal-torn Wedtech Corp. and two other clients.
The charges stemmed from business contacts between Nofziger and White House counselor Edwin Meese, later attorney general, and other officials less than a year after he left in January 1982 to open a consulting business.
He was sentenced to 90 days in jail, fined $30,000 and given two years probation, but the punishment was delayed pending his appeal.
The Ethics in Government Act was established during the Carter administration to prevent a "revolving door" phenomenon in which top-level government officials start up lucrative lobbying businesses shortly after leaving office by cashing in on their government contacts.
Also Monday, the court ruled 7-2 that a federal court may help notify potential victims of age discrimination that they have a right to sue the company that laid them off.
Justice Anthony Kennedy said the federal district court could aid the notification of those who may be affected by a lawsuit but cautioned that the "decision does not imply that trial courts have unbridled discretion in managing Age Discrimination in Employment Act actions."
Justice Antonin Scalia, joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, dissented.
"There is more than a little historical irony in the court's decision today," Scalia wrote. "`Stirring up litigation' was once exclusively the occupation of disreputable lawyers, roundly condemned by this and all American courts."
The case stems from the 1985 firing or demotions of some 1,200 workers at Hoffman-LaRoche plants.
A number of employees eventually sued charging age discrimination. In connection with the suit they asked the court to order the company to turn over the names and addresses of other potential victims and send notice to them about the suit. The court ordered the production of the names and allowed those who brought suit to send notice with a statement that the court had authorized the notice but took no position on the merits of the case.
In other action, the court:
- Shielded the FBI from having to give Grumman Corp. documents received from another government agency, narrowing the reach of the Freedom of Information Act.
- Turned away an appeal by an Iowa woman battling her state's mandatory seatbelt law.
- Ruled unanimously, in a complex tax dispute involving the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., that U.S. tax law should be used to determine "accumulated profits" of an overseas subsidiary.