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Former governor to remain free during appeal

Raising the chance that the Supreme Court will review his case, former Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell on Monday gained the right to stay out of prison while that appeal goes forward.  In a one-paragraph order, without a noted dissent, the Justices put off the process that could have required his jailing within a matter of days.

The delay will continue until the Court acts finally on the appeal that McDonnell’s lawyers will soon file — either by granting review and deciding the case, or by refusing to hear the appeal.  The earliest that may happen is early next year.

The former governor, who had been a rising political star in the Republican Party before he was prosecuted for political corruption while in office, has been sentenced to two years in prison.  Before the Supreme Court acted on his temporary freedom request, he was scheduled to go before U.S. District Judge James Spencer in Richmond to face a date to report to prison.

Although the Court did not explain Monday’s order, one of the factors the Justices consider before issuing such a postponement is whether there is a fair prospect that at least four of the Justices — the minimum number needed — would vote to review his conviction and sentence, and a chance that the conviction would be overturned.

McDonnell’s wife, Maureen, also was convicted in the corruption case, but her appeal has not yet been resolved by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  She was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

The federal case against the couple was based upon a jury’s conclusions that they accepted loans plus expensive gifts and favors from a Richmond businessman who wanted state government agencies to help him with the promotion of a supplement that his company had created for some medical treatments.

The former governor’s coming appeal to the Supreme Court will focus on at least two issues: whether prosecutors used an expanded version of a federal law that makes it a crime to perform “official acts” in return for something of value, and whether the trial judge failed to adequately question potential jurors about the possible influence they may have felt from heavy publicity surrounding his case.

His forthcoming appeal is expected to draw wide support from among former prosecutors and other officials, many of whom sided with him before the Fourth Circuit.

McDonnell’ s connections in Virginia were so widespread that seven of the fifteen judges on the Fourth Circuit disqualified themselves when that court refused to review his case en banc.

The Justice Department had urged the Supreme Court not to grant him a temporary reprieve, arguing among other points that there is no conflict among lower courts on the meaning of the fraud laws under which McDonnell was found guilty.


Recommended Citation: Lyle Denniston, Former governor to remain free during appeal, SCOTUSblog (Aug. 31, 2015, 4:14 PM),