Local lawmakers respond to McDonnell verdict

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Bob McDonnell speaks to the press after sentencing. (Michael Melkonian/Capital News Service)
Bob McDonnell speaks to the press after sentencing.
(Michael Melkonian/Capital News Service)

Local lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are responding to this morning’s U.S. Supreme Court verdict in the corruption case of former Republican governor Bob McDonnell.

McDonnell, who was governor from 2010 to 2014, had been found guilty in September 2014 by a U.S. District Court jury of 11 corruption counts that stemmed from accepting gifts from Richmond businessman Jonnie Williams Sr.

After hearing oral arguments in April, the eight justices on the Supreme Court unanimously ruled the 2014 conviction should be vacated, determining the jury had not been correctly taught the meaning of an “official act” and may have convicted McDonnell for actions that are not illegal.

The prosecution had argued that arranging meetings for Williams with state officials and allowing him to host a luncheon at the governor’s mansion should be considered “official acts.”

“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in the court opinion. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes, and ball gowns. It is instead with the broader legal implications of the Government’s boundless interpretation of the federal bribery statute.”

In a statement, State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd District), who represents parts of York and James City counties, said the decision should “come as a relief” to all Virginians.

“For those of us who have worked with Governor McDonnell and known his family for the nearly quarter century he devoted to serving the people of Virginia, this has been a wrenching and difficult time,” Norment said. “But throughout these last two years under what had to be unbearable circumstances, his dignity and grace has confirmed the confidence placed in him by the people of Virginia when they elected him governor.”

He added that the Supreme Court’s verdict makes it clear there is “a difference between acceptable political activities and crossing the line.”

In an interview with WYDaily, state Del. Monty Mason (D-93rd District), who represents the City of Williamsburg and parts of James City County and York County, agreed that the McDonnell case has been “a long, painful story for Virginia” but argued that the way the former governor handled the gifts was “not the way it’s supposed to be done.”

“He should have reported these things on his state financial disclosure statement,” Mason said. “He knew good and well it would be a political nightmare and a big black eye if he did.”

He said he hoped the state could implement some safeguards to prevent such scandals in the future.

In its decision, the Supreme Court remanded the case for “further proceedings,” but did not say whether it should be retried.

“If the court below determines that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Governor McDonnell committing or agreeing to commit an ‘official act,’ his case may be set for a new trial,” Roberts wrote. “If the court instead determines that the evidence is insufficient, the charges against him must be dismissed. We express no view on that question.”