Judge refuses to delay decision on McDonnells’ request for separate trials

A federal judge said Thursday he will soon decide whether former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife will get separate trials or go before a single jury.

Attorneys for the McDonnells had hoped for strategic reasons to delay the decision about whether to separate the cases until shortly before the trial, scheduled for July 28.

But U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer denied the defense attorneys’ request in an order filed Thursday, saying he would rule “in due course” after a hearing scheduled for May 19.

He invited attorneys for the McDonnells to submit additional information in support of their argument.

Federal prosecutors have alleged in a 14-count indictment that the former governor and his wife, Maureen, benefited from the largesse of Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for Robert McDonnell’s lending the prestige of the governor’s office to him and his former company.

The McDonnells have said in earlier filings that it would be unfair to have one trial. At a joint trial, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers have said, she would not agree to testify — for fear of incriminating herself — that her husband was unaware of her interactions with Williams.

And only at a separate trial, the attorneys have said, would Robert McDonnell be able to testify on his own behalf without his wife silencing him by asserting marital privilege.

At the heart of the issue Thursday was the timing of key disclosures.

Attorneys for the McDonnells had sought to shield from the prosecution filings in which they would explain to the judge details of testimony by the former governor and his wife if they were allowed separate trials. When the judge said those declarations would have to be shown to the prosecution, the attorneys asked the judge to postpone his decision on trying the couple separately until 14 days before the trial, indicating that they would be willing at that time to share the information with both the judge and the prosecutors.

McDonnell’s attorneys are concerned about having to reveal information to prosecutors that would reveal their strategy.

Their preference, according to the filing, was to give prosecutors two weeks instead of months to prepare a counterattack to any defense evidence that rebuts the government’s allegations.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

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Ann covers legal affairs in the District and Maryland for the Washington Post. Ann previously covered state government and politics in California, New Hampshire and Maryland. She joined the Post in 2005.
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