A federal appeals court on Wednesday put former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell’s legal challenge to her public corruption convictions on hold, apparently agreeing with defense attorneys that it was best to wait for Supreme Court action in her husband’s case.
The one-page order signed by the clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit offered no reasoning for the decision, saying only Maureen McDonnell’s case would be put “in abeyance pending further order of the court.” That means, barring unforeseen action, Maureen McDonnell’s attorneys will not present oral arguments in Richmond as they were scheduled to do on Oct. 29.
Both Maureen McDonnell and her husband, former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, were convicted last year 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’s.
The judges of the 4th Circuit have already rejected Robert McDonnell’s bid for exoneration, and on Tuesday, he formally asked the Supreme Court to review his case. His wife’s attorneys argued that whatever the justices decided for him would impact his wife’s appeal, so it should be put on hold.
Prosecutors resisted that request, arguing the public had a “significant interest in the prompt resolution” of both cases.
Both McDonnells have been allowed to remain free with their legal challenges pending, and in Robert McDonnell’s case that is particularly significant, indicating there is a “reasonable probability” that the justices will take up his case and a “fair prospect” that a majority would overturn the lower court’s decision.
Prosecutors have 30 days to respond to his petition to the nation’s highest court, which is expected to decide whether to hear the case in the weeks after that.