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Fight to keep former Gov. Bob McDonnell out of prison hits 4th Circuit Court of Appeals

Posted at 7:40 AM, May 12, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-12 21:08:40-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's appeal of his federal corruption conviction was heard Tuesday when attorneys presented oral arguments at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in downtown Richmond.

McDonnell entered and exited the courthouse in a familiar fashion, flanked by family members and attorneys.

McDonnell's legal team and government prosecutors spent 30 minutes each presenting arguments to a panel of three judges. The panel also challenged each side's arguments throughout the hearing.

Both sides have entered hundreds of pages of legal briefs to the appeals court. One of the main disputes raised by both parties in the briefs was over what constitutes an "official act" by a politician and how the court defined that term to jury members during McDonnell's trial last year.

McDonnell's lawyers argued their client never promised anything tangible to Williams in exchange for the gifts and loans Williams gave the McDonnell family. Therefore, they argued, McDonnell never gave Williams any special treatment.

Government prosecutors disagree with that argument. They counter Governor McDonnell never denied accepting gifts from Williams and the jury obviously saw a corrupt "quid pro quo" since they convicted McDonnell of the majority of the corruption charges he faced.

Also in question is whether the court properly vetted jurors before the proceedings began as well as whether the judge accurately defined "official acts" for jury members prior to deliberations.

The three judge panel could uphold the jury's conviction, order McDonnell get a new trial or throw out the case completely. The decision is not expected for several weeks.

The three judges that will decide the case are Judge Diana Motz, Judge Robert King, and Judge Stephanie Thacker.  A decision could take up to three months.

All were appointees of Democratic Presidents however McDonnell lawyers tell CBS 6 that is not an issue.

During the back and forth questioning between the judges and lawyers, it was difficult to to predict which way the judges are leaning.

Although at one point Judge Motz appeared to agree with Defense Attorney Nico Francesco that businessman Jonnie Williams received very little in exchange for the gifts and loans.

Motz said that the quo — or what Williams received from McDonnell — was “much thinner” than the quid in the case. 

On the point of jury instructions, which McDonnell lawyers believe favored the government, Judge King appeared to disagree. 

“I don’t know how it could be any better for you,” King said --- noting that McDonnell attorneys recieved a "good faith" clause in jury instructions. 

In January, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a defense motion that has allowed McDonnell to remain out on bond during the appeals process. Legal experts said it was rare to see someone who was convicted on federal charges and allowed to stay out of jail during their appeal.

After the hearing McDonnell told the media that he has been staying busy by doing consulting work as well as attending graduation parties.