Prosecutors on Friday asked a federal judge to make former Gov. Bob McDonnell begin serving his two-year prison sentence even while his appeals are pending a request that, if successful, would put the onetime Republican rising star behind bars by this time next month.
In a motion filed in federal district court in Richmond, prosecutors argued that jurors had exercised "sound judgment" with their verdict and, in essence, already rejected McDonnell's best argument for bond pending appeal. Defense attorneys had requested that McDonnell, 60, be allowed to remain free on bond while his appeal was adjudicated a process that could drag into next year.
U.S. District Judge James Spencer will ultimately rule on both requests, though his decision could be appealed. McDonnell's attorneys must convince the judge that the former governor's appeal presents a "substantial question" and is not meant simply to delay the inevitable. They argued in court filings that while Spencer has disagreed with them on legal matters, the questions they will raise are at least close calls.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were convicted in September of lending the prestige of the governor's office to Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams in exchange for $177,000 in loans, vacations and luxury goods. Spencer on Tuesday sentenced the former governor to two years in prison and ordered him to turn himself over to federal authorities by Feb. 9. Federal prison officials have not yet picked a facility to which he should report, though he has requested to stay close to home in Richmond, possibly at Federal Correctional Institution, Petersburg.
Maureen McDonnell is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 20.
McDonnell's attorneys had asked even before he was sentenced that he be allowed to remain free on bond while his appeal was pending, previewing in that request some of the issues they plan to raise with a higher court. They argued, as they have in the past, that McDonnell performed no "official" acts for Williams a point prosecutors were required to prove and they asserted that Spencer did not question prospective jurors thoroughly enough about pre-trial publicity.
They also said Spencer should have more aggressively investigated possible premature deliberations during the case, after one juror who was dismissed made a comment about having 12 people "all over the place."
Prosecutors fired back Friday that McDonnell received a "full and fair trial," and jurors had already "weighed and rejected the defendant's lead argument for bailhis claim that he never agreed to perform official acts in exchange for the $177,000 in money, luxury goods, and other benefits that he received."
"The jury's exercise of judgment is sound, and the validity of the twelve jurors' judgment is not a 'close' call, justifying bail," they wrote. They also said Spencer acted within his discretion in his handling of the jury.
Once McDonnell formally files a notice of appeal, his case will move to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which will set a schedule for the parties to submit written briefings. Experts said those briefings might not come for six months, and after that, the court will likely want to hear oral arguments.
A three-judge panel will ultimately rule on McDonnell's appeal, though the case could move from there to the full group of appeals court judges or to the U.S. Supreme Court. McDonnell is hoping someone along the way throws out his conviction or at least orders that he be given a new trial.