WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. judge overstepped his authority in rejecting a deal that prosecutors reached to settle criminal charges against a Dutch aerospace company accused of illegally selling aircraft parts to Iran, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said it was up to the Justice Department to negotiate the terms of a settlement, and U.S. District Judge Richard Leon shouldn't have second-guessed the deal as too lenient.
The closely watched case raised novel questions about whether judges can refuse to accept agreements in which the Justice Department agrees to withdraw charges if a company admits wrongdoing, pays a fine and meets other conditions to show it is complying with the law.
At issue was a deal that called for Fokker Services BV to pay $21 million in penalties in exchange for the Justice Department's decision not to prosecute the company for illegal exports that began in 2005 and ended in 2010.
Both the Justice Department and the company had said Leon was improperly interfering with the discretion of prosecutors.
Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Sri Srinivasan said it's clearly the job of prosecutors to make the decisions about whether to bring charges, whom to prosecute, which charges to bring and whether to dismiss charges after they are filed.
"It has long been settled that the judiciary generally lacks authority to second-guess those executive determinations, much less to impose its own charging preferences," Srinivasan wrote.
Prosecutors said the agreement was fair because Fokker cooperated with the government's investigation and agreed to punish the employees who were involved. The total in penalties was equal to Fokker's gross revenue for the shipments of aircraft parts to Iran, Sudan and Burma in violation of U.S. law.
Leon had refused to accept the deal, which he called "grossly disproportionate to the gravity of Fokker Services' conduct in a post-9/11 world."