Attorneys for former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to postpone her challenge to her public corruption convictions while the U.S. Supreme Court weighs whether it will take her husband’s case.
In a 12-page filing, the lawyers argued that it made sense to put Maureen McDonnell’s appeal on hold temporarily because any high court action in her husband’s case would undeniably impact hers. They wrote that prosecutors opposed their request, though they did not say why.
Both Maureen McDonnell and her husband, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, were convicted in September 2014 of lending the prestige of the governor’s office to Richmond businessman Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods. He was sentenced to two years in prison; she to a year and a day. Though they were tried together, they appealed separately, with the former governor’s case proceeding on a slightly faster track than that of his wife.
A three-judge panel with U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit rejected Robert McDonnell’s appeal earlier this year, and the entire slate of judges declined to hear the matter further, leaving the Supreme Court as his last chance for exoneration. Oral arguments are scheduled in Maureen McDonnell’s appeal for Oct. 29, though her attorneys asked that those, too, be postponed.
The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet agreed to take up Robert McDonnell’s challenge to his public corruption convictions but has allowed him to remain out on bond while he asks the justices to do so. That indicates there is at least a “reasonable probability” they will eventually agree to hear the matter and a “fair prospect” they will reverse the decision of the lower court.
McDonnell (R) has until Nov. 9 to file his formal petition asking the high court to take up the case, and prosecutors will likely respond weeks after that. Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers wrote that the matter “should be fully briefed by early 2016,” with the Supreme Court making a decision on whether to hear the case shortly thereafter. Maureen McDonnell, like her husband, remains out of prison while her appeal is pending.
Large swaths of the McDonnells’ challenges to their convictions overlap. Both argued, for example, that they did not use or try to use the power of the governor’s office to benefit Williams — a point prosecutors were required to prove. They also argued that a judge defined the term of “official acts” — which prosecutors were required to prove they performed or tried to perform for Williams — too broadly for jurors, potential criminalizing routine political dealings across the country.
But Maureen McDonnell also argued she could be exonerated on her own, citing her unique status as a non-public official and the vagueness of federal corruption laws as reasons.
In asking that her appeal be temporarily put in abeyance, Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers argued that no matter how the Supreme Court decides in her husband’s case, that would have a serious impact on hers. A new trial or outright reversal of her husband’s convictions would benefit her, but any written opinion might shed some light on the issues she was raising alone, her lawyers wrote.
Putting the case on hold until the high court could weigh in, they wrote, “would ensure consistent results and would further judicial economy.”
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia did not immediately return messages seeking comment.