McDonnell Trial May Test Ties That Bind Former Governor and Wife

Law Firm Newswire



Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) August 13, 2014 – Corruption charges against a former Virginian governor and his spouse could push their marital issues into the spotlight.

As court-bound corruption scandals go, the trial of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell that began July 28 seems a generally familiar tale. As usual, a once-promising politician’s career has been torn asunder by allegations of financial impropriety, but his wife’s alleged direct involvement has made the case both complex and unusual. Maureen McDonnel is also facing corruption charges, and the accusations could very well put the interests of each half of the marriage at variance with those of the other.

McDonnell, a Republican who served as Virginia’s governor prior to the inauguration of the current governor, Democrat Terry McAuliffe, was also once the commonwealth’s attorney general. He was most recently considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate. But those lofty political predictions only floated before McDonnell became the first governor of Virginia to be charged with a crime.

The former governor and his wife are facing 14 criminal charges of public corruption and lying on financial documents. The accusations against the McDonnells center on the key charge that the couple improperly accepted trips on private planes, golf outings, expensive clothing and $120,000 in loans in exchange for helping to promote a businessman’s company. They allegedly arranged meetings for its chief executive, Jonnie R. Williams Sr., with commonwealth officials, and they even permitted the firm’s chief to stage the launch of a new product at the Executive Mansion.

The legal proceedings pivot on whether McDonnell and his wife were plotting to provide official favors in exchange for gifts they could otherwise not afford. In court, that issue could ignite debate over and invite speculation on some of the more embarrassing details of the McDonnells’ marriage.

Moreover, they may serve as a potential source for legal friction between the governor and his wife. “A courthouse is a far-from-optimal forum to air discordant marital issues,” said Lisa McDevitt, a prominent Fairfax, Virginia divorce attorney. “And a criminal case could test the ties that bind a couple even further.”

McDonnell’s attorneys will not only argue that the charges against him are baseless — among other likely talking points will be the claim that McDonnell was too well-heeled to need Williams’ largess — but also that any favors the couple enjoyed from Williams came because Maureen accepted them without her husband’s knowledge.

Typically, spousal immunity would protect one spouse from being called to testify against the other spouse by the prosecution in a criminal case. However, there are a few exceptions, including circumstances in which both halves of the couple were participants in the execution of a crime.

“The dynamics of a criminal case in which a husband and wife are both facing charges can get rather complicated,” McDevitt said. “These types of proceedings can solidify or pull apart a marriage.”

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