Nicholas Braswell is a criminal defense attorney in Richmond who recently left the Office of the Public Defender to join the ranks of Price Benowitz. Mr. Braswell handles a wide range of criminal defense matters, ranging from white collar allegations to serious felonies to DUI defense in the greater Richmond area.
On Wednesday, April 27, the Supreme Court will hear former Virginia Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s appeal on his federal corruption conviction, in which he will claim that he did not violate Virginia law when he accepted over $177,000 in gifts from Star Scientific’s CEO Jonnie Williams, Jr.
Such gifts included a Rolex watch, about $20,000 in designer clothes for McDonnell’s wife, $15,000 for their daughter’s wedding, and several paid trips and golf outings.
According to Solicitor General Don Verrilli, McDonnell “solicited and secretly accepted personal benefits in exchange for ‘official acts’ that fall within the definition federal law has given that term for more than a century.”
In 2014, McDonnell and his wife were convicted on 11 counts of corruption, the decision being upheld by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. His two-year prison sentence, as well as that of his wife, is currently on hold while the Supreme Court appeal proceeds.
The Supreme Court will also hear Mrs. McDonnell’s case at a later date, since her appeal is currently on hold, pending the result of her husband’s case.
In legal briefs, McDonnell has argued, “Close relationships between business leaders, lobbyists, and public officials are commonplace.” His argument also cites the Citizens United case of 2010, in which the Court endorsed “routine courtesies” between politicians and wealthy businesspeople.
The question the Court will have to decide on Wednesday is whether or not such behavior is illegal, or if it is simply a distasteful but acceptable norm of the relationship between politics and the wealthy.
The absence of Justice Antonin Scalia due to his death in February may have a negative impact on McDonnell’s case, considering the late Justice was a “strong voice for these types of issues,” according to one of McDonnell’s lawyers.
If the Supreme Court upholds McDonnell’s conviction, the ruling could have a major impact on clarifying bribery laws and serious repercussions for politicians and public officials.
By defining the difference between bribery and routine actions or courtesies to constituents, the Supreme Court will potentially put wide-reaching constraints on politician-constituent relationships.
Borderstan contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author — our contributor and law firm sponsor Price Benowitz LLP — and do not necessarily reflect the views of Borderstan.