By Gary Robertson
RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - Former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell and his wife will try to notch a win in their battle against corruption charges on Monday by getting a federal judge to order separate trials for them.
McDonnell, a Republican who left office in January, and his wife, Maureen, face a 14-count indictment charging them with conspiring to accept about $165,000 in gifts, vacations and loans from businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for helping his company, dietary supplement maker Star Scientific Inc.
Prosecutors have portrayed the couple as short on money. Robert McDonnell, 59, also was unable to pay some bills for beachfront houses he owned through a corporation during his term as governor, according to court papers filed by prosecutors.
The focus of the case in U.S. District Court in Richmond is whether what the McDonnells did was illegal or just unseemly. Much of the legal jousting has centered on defining official acts and whether the couple abused their office to help Williams or extended him routine courtesies.
Monday's hearing will focus on motions, especially Robert McDonnell's bid to have the case split into separate trials.
Maureen McDonnell, 60, has also filed a motion seeking split trials. Her lawyers have said in court filings that because of fear of incriminating herself, she would not agree to testify that her husband was unaware of her own dealings with Williams.
The former governor's lawyers say a joint trial would bar his wife from testifying on his behalf and prohibit him from disclosing in his defense confidential conversations between the two.
Prosecutors contend that defendants who are indicted together should be tried together. They also say that the McDonnells have failed to prove that Maureen McDonnell's testimony is necessary and that she would invoke her right against self-incrimination in a joint trial.
Robert McDonnell also is seeking dismissal of 11 counts involving conspiracy, wire fraud, obtaining property illegally and making false statements. Trial is set for July 28.
Defense lawyers, as well as five former state attorneys general, have argued that prosecutors are trying to criminalize politics with their case against McDonnell.
Supporters have estimated the trial would cost the McDonnells more than $1 million, and have started a defense fund.
McDonnell, once seen as a potential presidential contender in 2016, is teaching part time at Liberty University, a fundamentalist Baptist college in Lynchburg, Virginia.
Williams resigned in December as Star Scientific's chief executive. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
(Editing by Ian Simpson and Mohammad Zargham)