RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell's legal team said in court filings Monday that her convictions on several public corruption charges are based on an overly broad definition of bribery and that she did not receive a fair trial owing to mistakes by the presiding federal judge.
In a 101-page brief filed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, her attorneys said McDonnell's convictions should be overturned or that, at minimum, she should be given another trial because of those errors.
McDonnell and her husband, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, were convicted in a joint trial in September of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's nutritional supplements.
The former Republican governor, once widely considered a possible running mate to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was sentenced in January to two years in prison. His wife was sentenced on Feb. 20 to one year and one day in prison. Both are free on bond while they pursue appeals.
Maureen McDonnell's arguments largely mirror those her husband has made during his ongoing appeal: that their convictions are based on a flawed understanding of what constitutes an "official action" by an elected official. The McDonnells have long argued that they only extended routine courtesies to Williams, not any special treatment that merits a bribery conviction.
"This court should reject an interpretation of the federal bribery law so vague and boundless that it sweeps every politician and his or her spouse into its grasp, leaving prosecutors free to decide who faces prison and who gets a pass," Maureen McDonnell's lawyers said in Monday's filing.
According to testimony at the McDonnells' six-week trial, the governor arranged meetings for Williams with administration officials while Williams was seeking state-financed research on his company's signature product, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. The first couple also attended events promoting Anatabloc and hosted a product launch event at the Executive Mansion.
Williams lavished the McDonnells with gifts, including a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor and about $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for his wife, as well as low-interest loans to help them pay credit card bills and to prop up their money-losing vacation rental properties in Virginia Beach.
Maureen McDonnell's lawyers also argued in Monday's filing that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer made numerous mistakes, including not allowing the McDonnells to have separate trials. McDonnell's lawyers also said Spencer conducted a "superficial" assessment of whether potential jurors had been biased by media's extensive pre-trial coverage of the McDonnells. And the judge also erred by barring the testimony of a legal expert who would have testified that Williams received an "extraordinary" immunity deal, according to her legal team.
Prosecutors are set to respond to Maureen McDonnell's filing by May 14 and its unclear when the appeals court may issue a ruling.