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Bob McDonnell's Appeal Heard by Judges

Anne Marie Morgan

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments today (Tuesday) during former Governor Bob McDonnell’s appeal of federal corruption convictions… and vigorously questioned both defense and prosecution attorneys.  They focused on two critical issues:  what constitutes “official acts” under federal law…and whether McDonnell was denied due process because potential jurors were never asked whether they had formed opinions after the extensive pre-trial news coverage.

Citing the U.S. Supreme Court, defense attorney Noel Francisco said “ingratiation and access are not corruption”… and that McDonnell committed no crimes in simply setting up meetings or performing the routine courtesies of all officeholders. He said the lower court’s jury instructions were incomplete.

“The line is between access on the one hand and advocating for a specific decision on the other.  Here, Governor McDonnell never crossed that line, and the jury was never even told that that line—or any other line—even existed.”

Judge Diana Gribbon Motz referred to ex-Star Scientific CEO Jonnie Williams’ gifts and loans to the McDonnell family, saying there was a lot of quid in the “quid pro quo”:
“But the quo is much thinner.”

Prosecutor Richard Cooke replied that regardless, the nature of the payments has evidentiary force.

“When you see somebody getting $177,000 worth of payments in cash and luxury goods and that sort of thing, that that’s informative about people’s motivations.”

Francisco also said the lower court’s refusal to allow the defense to ask potential jurors if they had formed an opinion based on pre-trial publicity was a reversible error that made it difficult for McDonnell to get a fair trial.

Although the case has been expedited, it will likely take several weeks before a decision is published. Either side could then ask for an appeal to the entire 4th Circuit Court or to the U.S. Supreme Court.