Three of the most serious charges against former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy were dismissed by a federal judge, who found that the laws in question do not apply to a Cabinet official.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled Monday that Espy could not be charged under the 1907 Federal Meat Inspection Act, which makes it a crime for rank-and-file Agriculture Department inspectors to accept gratuities from companies they regulate.Espy was charged under that act in only three of the 39 counts brought through Independent Counsel Donald Smaltz's probe, but they were the only charges that required a prison sentence of at least one year each. A judge, however, still would have discretion to sentence Espy to prison if he is convicted on any of the remaining counts.