The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday unanimously reversed former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 11 corruption convictions. Maureen McDonnel’s counsel, William A. Burck, said the former first lady of Virginia’s nine counts will also be tossed out.
The high court vacated the unanimous finding of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which rejected McDonnell’s arguments and upheld the guilty verdicts of a lower court.
A Richmond jury convicted Virginia’s 71st governor and his wife, Maureen, in September 2014 for accepting more than $177,000 in gifts and loans from Jonnie R. Williams Sr., former CEO of Star Scientific, in exchange for promoting one of the company’s dietary supplements.
McDonnell consistently has said that did not give Williams and his company special treatment in exchange for the money, and that he had only made introductions to people on his behalf.
In the 28-page opinion, the justices wrote that the question remains whether merely setting up a meeting, hosting an event or calling another official qualifies as an official decision or action.
In the opinion, justices explained that while the McDonnells may have breached the public trust, their actions were not illegal.
“There is no doubt that this case is distasteful; it may be worse than that,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “But our concern is not with tawdry tales of Ferraris, Rolexes and ball gowns.”
The ruling also leaves open the possibility of a retrial, which prosecutors may or may not seek.
“If the court below determines that there is sufficient evidence for a jury to convict Gov. McDonnell of committing or agreeing to commit an ‘official act,’ his case may be set for a new trial,” Roberts wrote.