McDonnell to remain free; legal scholars say case could set precedent

Posted at 12:05 AM, Jan 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-01-27 00:05:00-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell will remain out of prison while his appeal is heard by a federal appeals court.

On Monday, The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, said McDonnell is not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of the community. The court also stated that the appeal raises a substantial question of law or fact that could warrant a reversal or new trial.

Federal Judge James Spencer denied McDonnell’s request to remain free earlier this month, and ordered McDonnell to report to prison on February 9th.

McDonnell released a statement in response to Monday’s ruling:

“I am grateful for today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit allowing me to remain free on bond pending my appeal. I plan to spend time with my new granddaughter who was born this month, attend my sons’ graduation ceremonies, and embrace family time with my daughters. I want to thank my family, friends and legal team for their tireless support and unwavering belief in my innocence. At this time our family requests privacy.”

The former governor and his wife, Maureen, were convicted on multiple corruption charges stemming from their relationship with businessman Jonnie Williams. Prosecutors accused the couple of lending the prestige of the governor’s office in exchange for lavish gifts and loans from Williams, a dietary supplement executive.

The McDonnell’s attorneys have long argued that the couple never broke the law because the governor never performed any official acts that benefitted Williams.

Legal scholars say McDonnell’s case could set a legal precedent.

“I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this goes up to the Supreme Court,” said University of Richmond Law Professor Henry Chambers. “There’s still a fair amount of discussion about what qualifies as an official act.”

Chambers believes Judge Spencer’s decision to sentence McDonnell to two years in prison, far below the recommended sentencing guidelines of 10 to 12 years, is telling.

“The fact that Judge Spencer only gave him two (years) suggests to me that he really doesn’t believe in the case as much as he says he believes in the case,” said Chambers.

The appellate court will hear McDonnell’s case on May 12.

Maureen McDonnell is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Spencer on Feb. 20.