Justices will hear ex-Virginia Gov. McDonnell's appeal

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2016 5:52 PM
Justices will hear ex-Virginia Gov. McDonnell's appeal

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court will hear former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell's appeal of his public corruption convictions.

The justices said Friday that they will review lower court rulings that upheld the convictions based on what McDonnell says is an overly broad definition of bribery.

A jury in September 2014 convicted McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, of doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. Williams was seeking state university research on his company's signature anti-inflammatory product.

The Obama administration urged the court to reject the appeal, saying the jury had ample evidence of bribery.

But Republicans and Democrats who once worked in the Justice Department and White House joined McDonnell in contending that the overly broad definition of bribery on which he was convicted would make a crime of routine actions by elected officials on behalf of their constituents.

"I am innocent of these crimes and ask the court to reverse these convictions. I maintain my profound confidence in God's grace to sustain me and my family," McDonnell said in a statement Friday. The Justice Department declined to comment.

The case probably will be argued in April and decided by the end of June.

The justices have taken on several cases in recent years that claimed prosecutors were too aggressive in their pursuit of white-collar crimes. In 2010, the court narrowed the use of an anti-fraud law that was central in convicting politicians and corporate executives in many of the nation's most prominent corruption cases.

Last year, the justices also declined to hear the government's appeal of a lower court ruling that threw out insider trading convictions.

McDonnell's was among eight new cases the justices agreed to hear Friday. Others include:

— A Missouri church's challenge to its exclusion from a state program that provides money to use ground-up tires to cushion playgrounds.

— A dispute about whether a board created to review patents by a 2011 law is jeopardizing innovation by using a standard that favors challenges to patents and invalidating too many patents.

— An appeal from Microsoft Corp. over a class-action lawsuit by disgruntled owners of the Xbox 360 video-game system who claim the console has a design defect that scratches game disks.

— A bid by service advisers at auto dealerships who say they are entitled to overtime pay under federal labor laws.

The action in McDonnell's case was not a surprise because the justices voted in August to allow McDonnell to postpone the start of his two-year prison term while his appeal was being considered. Such votes typically signal the court will hear the full appeal.

The court will not take up a second issue raised by McDonnell: whether the trial judge did enough to ensure that jurors could be impartial in spite of the heavy news coverage of the McDonnells' cases in Virginia news outlets.

Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. Her appeal has been put on hold until the Supreme Court decides her husband's case.

The heart of the former governor's appeal is that he never took official action to benefit Williams or the Star Scientific company he ran. Neither Williams nor the company received any state money and McDonnell never pressured anyone to help Williams or promised Williams that he would, McDonnell argues in his appeal.

But Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. said McDonnell violated federal anti-corruption law when he accepted "personal benefits in exchange for his agreement to influence government matters."

The case is McDonnell v. U.S., 15-474.

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Associated Press writer Larry O'Dell contributed to this report from Richmond, Virginia.