US Supreme Court: Ex-Virginia Gov to Remain Free for Now

1 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to Remain Free During Supreme Court Appeal.

The US supreme court on Monday granted a request by former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell to remain out of prison while he appeals against his corruption convictions. In a brief unsigned order, the court said McDonnell, who was governor from 2010 until 2014, would not have to report to prison until he completes the appeals process. A jury found McDonnell guilty last year of conspiring to take more than $170,000 in cash and gifts from a wealthy businessman in exchange for promoting his untested dietary supplement.

The decision was a dramatic–perhaps unprecedented–win for the former governor, who lost a lower court appeal and who would have had to begin serving a two-year prison sentence without the Supreme Court’s intervention. McDonnell was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment following his January conviction on what federal prosecutors characterized as a “quid pro quo bribery scheme” with a Virginia businessman seeking to promote a dietary supplement product. But McDonnell maintained he was wrongly convicted because he did little more than make phone calls and arrange meetings to help promote the product of a donor. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted nearly a year ago of public corruption for lending the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R.

It does not mean McDonnell will prevail, but one of the criteria for getting the stay from the Supreme Court was, as the ex-governor’s lawyers put it in court papers, a fair prospect that the justices will reverse the lower court decision. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are inclined to take the case, but they collectively thought Mr. Lawyers for McDonnell, the first Virginia governor to be convicted on criminal charges, had argued that he did not represent a flight risk or threat to public safety and thus did not need to be imprisoned. McDonnell can be imprisoned for giving special access to a gift giver, any elected official could equally be imprisoned for agreeing to answer a campaign donor’s phone call or arrange a meeting for him,” they said Thursday in requesting an order to prevent McDonnell from going to prison now. A three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously upheld the former governor’s convictions in July, and the full 15-member court refused to rehear the case.

It would be wrong, they said, if he were to later “have the critical legal premise for the conviction invalidated, or the fundamental unfairness of the trial confirmed.” But U.S. Verrilli told the court that the government could not find a single instance in which the justices had allowed someone to remain free after his conviction had been upheld by an appeals court. He repeatedly has argued that prosecutors overreached, effectively criminalizing the way powerful people typically interact. “Close relationships between business leaders, lobbyists, and public officials are commonplace,” Mr. McDonnell said in a Thursday court filing with the high court, arguing politicians routinely reward their donors and friends with access to themselves and other officials. The case derailed the career of the rising Republican star, who had been viewed as a possible running mate to presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

Allowing prosecutors to file criminal charges when a gift or donation can be connected to any action by a politician would “radically reshape politics in this nation,” he said. McDonnell contends that the trial judge didn’t take adequate steps to ensure that jurors weren’t prejudiced by pretrial publicity regarding the case. Seeking to win state support for his dietary supplement, Williams agreed to pay $15,000 to cover the cost of the catering when McDonnell’s daughter was married. Federal officials would then have picked a facility appropriate for him, taking into account available bed space, his particular security risks and other factors. McDonnell took office in January 2010, “he and his family were in considerable financial distress,” owing $75,000 in credit-card debt and losing $40,000 a year “on a pair of heavily mortgaged rental properties.” The government recited the many things Mr.

Williams lavished upon the McDonnells, including a $20,000 New York shopping spree for the first lady, a $6,000 Rolex watch for the governor, $25,000 to pay for their daughters’ weddings and another $130,000 in gifts or loans. Williams wanted Virginia state universities to conduct research and testing that could help Anatabloc, derived from a compound found in tobacco, qualify as a pharmaceutical product with the Food and Drug Administration. McDonnell hosted a product launch for Anatabloc at the governor’s mansion, arranged meetings with state and university officials to discuss the product and passed along proposals regarding research into the supplement, which he told at least one official he was using himself, the government said.

McDonnell’s attorneys recommended in January that he be assigned to the prison camp nearest his home, although the Federal Bureau of Prisons will have the final word.

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