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Judge Says Jail For Bush Whistle-blower Protector

WASHINGTON (AP) - The former head of a whistle-blower protection office under President George W. Bush must spend at least a month in jail, according to a ruling by a federal judge that could threaten to derail the ex-official's plea deal.

Scott Bloch, who headed the Office of Special Counsel, pleaded to a misdemeanor charge of criminal contempt of Congress in April 2010. That plea, U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson said in an opinion late Wednesday, requires a sentence of "imprisonment in a common jail for not less than one month." She rejected arguments from prosecutors and defense lawyers that she has the discretion to impose a lower sentence and that other defendants who have pleaded guilty to the charge got probation, including baseball star Miguel Tejada last year.

Bloch admitted withholding information from House investigators about having private technicians "scrub" computer files used by political appointees at the Office of Special Counsel in December 2006.

Bloch was to be sentenced Thursday, but Robinson postponed that until Monday because of her ruling. It's one of many delays in sentencing since Bloch's plea because of the jail time issue.

"The court finds that no authority supports the requests of counsel that the court either interpret the sentencing provision as discretionary, or, alternatively, disregard the provision," Robinson wrote. "The court therefore declines the invitation to do so."

Bloch's lawyer, William Sullivan, expressed disappointment with the ruling, but said he was "gratified that the government supported our position that the statute does not require a mandatory sentence, and we will continue to pursue a just resolution to this matter."

Watchdog groups had criticized the plan for probation, writing to Robinson to argue that Bloch serve jail time.

The U.S. attorney's office declined to comment on the ruling.

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Online:

Robinson's ruling: http://tinyurl.com/4pwefht

Office of Special Counsel: http://www.osc.gov/

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Online:

http://tinyurl.com/4pwefht

http://www.osc.gov/