Gary Pierce and his wife, Sherry, pleaded not guilty to bribery and fraud charges.

PHOENIX — A federal judge declared a mistrial this afternoon in the Arizona Corporation Commission bribery case.

The move came after the 12 jurors told Judge John Tuchi they were "hopelessly deadlocked'' in their efforts to reach a verdict. 

Today's move is at least an intermediate victory for former utility regulator Gary Pierce, who was accused of accepting a bribe from water company owner George Johnson in exchange for his vote on two issues. Both Pierce and Johnson were charged with bribery and fraud.

It also provides relief for the time being for lobbyist Jim Norton, who was accused of arranging a scheme to get $31,500 to Pierce through a contract with Pierce's wife, Sherry, to do work for Johnson. Both faced the same charges.

Federal prosecutors have until Aug. 13 to decide whether to try again.

One issue that may affect that decision is what the jurors were thinking when they finally gave up.

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Tuchi said he will ask them — in private — if they are willing to share with him their interntal vote tally on each charge for each defendant. The judge told the attorneys for both sides he will share any information he gets with them to help them decide what to do next.

It isn't just the government that has to make a decision.

Before the trial began, prosecutors offered plea deals to all four defendants, allowing each to plead guilty to a single felony with no prison time in exchange for dropping all the other charges.

All four rejected the deal. But if the record shows jurors were close to convicting one or more of them, that could change the calculus next time around.