Supreme Court justices on Wednesday seemed prepared to overturn the 2014 corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and perhaps make it harder for prosecutors to bring charges against politicians who provide favors for their benefactors.
Justices on both sides of the ideological divide expressed concern about federal corruption laws that could criminalize what they variously called “routine” or “everyday” actions that politicians perform for campaign contributors or supporters who have provided them with gifts.
“For better or for worse, it puts at risk behavior that is common,” said Justice Stephen G. Breyer, who along with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested that the federal corruption laws are so vague that they might be unconstitutional.
Along with the state officials and law professors who are happy that the Supreme Court this week is reviewing the corruption conviction of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell, add inmate No. 24775-001 at the federal prison in Oakdale, La.
He is otherwise known as Don E. Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama, whom many of those same people supported when the justices decided — twice — that his conviction did not warrant an extended review.
The Virginia state Senate is expected to vote Monday on a measure that would weaken a land-use tool used for decades by local governments to get builders to add roads, parks and other improvements to new home developments.
The bill, which calls for placing restrictions on what local officials can ask for in development negotiations, is one of two measures working its way through the General Assembly. A House version of the bill passed 68-27 last week.
Both measures are generating strong opposition from local officials in Northern Virginia, where development deals have helped shape the character of some of the region’s fastest-growing communities.
Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William county officials say that changing the legislation would hamper their ability to negotiate for extra amenities from developers that, in the past, have been crucial to community support for new housing in places like Merrifield or Woodbridge. Officials also argue that amending the land-use tool would open them up to lawsuits if builders whose projects were rejected argued that they were denied because of their refusal to agree to “unreasonable” proffer requests.
Cash-strapped school districts across Virginia cut teaching and staff positions and crammed more students into classrooms during the Great Recession, as state and local funding fell off, leaving them with a huge deficit of teachers, according to a new report.
The Commonwealth Institute concluded that Virginia schools are now “missing” 11,200 staff members, including 4,600 teachers. That’s the number of additional staff members and teachers that would be working in Virginia schools if hiring had kept pace with student enrollment through the recession, when Virginia schools added more than 42,000 students to their rolls.
At the same time, the state has seen growth in the number of students who often need additional support. The report found a 39 percent rise in the number of students who are economically disadvantaged and a 33 percent increase in the number of students who enter school learning English. The homeless student population is up 73 percent, according to the institute’s report.
After the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly are preparing to push back in what they call a culture war aimed at destroying religious freedoms.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, said protections of religious liberties are going to be the primary focus for House Republicans in the 2016 General Assembly session, which begins in January.
“My concern is that the ultimate goal of the far left is not to secure rights for gay individuals but to tear down religious institutions and the belief systems that support them,” Gilbert said this week.
Asserting that this is the “next frontier for the far left,” Gilbert said he believes it is “more important than ever that we ensure that people’s deeply held convictions” are protected.
“If we are truly going to live in a world where everyone is afforded their rights to live their lives precisely as they please, then surely that has to include people of faith as well,” he said.
While GOP leaders in both houses of the legislature have acknowledged they will abide by the high court ruling that made same-sex marriage the law of the land, House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said the most pressing concern now is protecting religious liberty.
“We will need to carefully evaluate how this ruling will be applied and make sure we take steps to protect faith leaders, churches, nonprofits and individuals,” Howell said in an email. “The House of Delegates will fight vigilantly to protect religious freedom.”
Gilbert was tapped to take the lead in reviewing current law and what other states are doing to determine what actions Republicans may take during the 2016 session.
I get it that some people feel gay marriage is wrong. That’s OK. They can have their beliefs. The question isn’t what they believe, it’s how they behave. Gilbert and Lingamfelter apparently want to legalize discrimination. How well I recall Del. Lingamfelter pontificating in front of the General Assembly against a Richmond prosecutor being appointed a general district court judge because he was gay. Actually, the delegate used every reason in the world other than he was gay. His message was still very transparent.
Someone please help me understand how religious rights have been violated or will be violated. Gilbert and Lingamfelter are both known for extreme right positions that border on the ridiculous. Unless Virginians are going to be lined up and forced to marry someone of the same sex, there are no violations. People are still entitled to believe what they want to believe. No one is suggesting that a “thought police” be formed.
Virginians need to send a strong message to Lingamfelter and Gilbert that Virginians do not discriminate. Since Virginia is for Lovers, that should include its elected representatives. Both legislators need to understand that people don’t choose who they love. They need to SDASTFU. Maybe they need to get busy and work out some Medicaid legislation. That issue is far more pressing for Virginians than who someone else marries. It isn’t hurting them.
I guess this is the only way either man can appeal to his base. How pathetic.
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell will not be reporting to prison next month, thanks to a brief order from the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday that grants him bond pending his appeal.
The court noted that McDonnell is not a danger to society or a flight risk, that his appeal is not a delay tactic, and that there is a substantial question of law or fact that could lead to a reversal or new trial.
“I am grateful for today’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit allowing me to remain free on bond pending my appeal,” McDonnell said in a statement.
Virginia’s 71st governor said, “I plan to spend time with my new granddaughter who was born this month, attend my sons’ graduation ceremonies, and embrace family time with my daughters.”
I am pleased he won his appeal. McDonnell made some bad choices. He didn’t take a bribe, cheat anyone, steal, or embezzle. He broke no Virginia laws. However, the federal government swooped in and basically overruled Virginia.
I resent that and I also don’t think McDonnell is a bad person. I think he should have been allowed to do community service. Let’s cast our partisan politics aside. McDonnell was stupid. Being stupid isn’t illegal.
Disclosure: I am no fan of McDonnell. I disdain his politics.
A pair of loud alarm bells sounded last week for the Washington area’s economy, and political leaders from Richmond to Annapolis should take them seriously.
The warning of immediate concern came Thursday at an annual conference of 750 business and civic leaders in McLean. Economics mavens led by George Mason University professor Steve Fuller presented eye-opening data showing that our region has trailed almost every other major U.S. metropolitan area in job growth for the past three years.
Evidence of sluggishness is all around us, although the public has been slow to take note. Vacant commercial offices in Northern Virginia are at their highest level since 1991. Average wages in the region have dropped for three straight years, an unprecedented decline.
The federal agency that will play a pivotal role in guiding the sentence of former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell has recommended that the onetime Republican rising star spend at least 10 years and a month in prison, according to several people familiar with the matter.
The guidelines recommended by the U.S. probation office are preliminary, and even if finalized, U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer is not required to follow them. But experts said that Spencer typically heeds the probation office’s advice, and judges in his district have imposed sentences within the recommendations more than 70 percent of the time in recent years.
“It’s of critical importance,” said Scott Fredericksen, a white-collar criminal defense lawyer. “The fact is, the vast majority of times, courts follow those recommendations closely.”
The matter is far from settled. The probation office recommended a punishment from 10 years and a month to 12 years and 7 months. Calculating an appropriate range of sentences in the federal system is a complicated, mathematical process that takes into account a variety of factors, including the type of crime, the defendant’s role and the amount of loss. The judge has yet to see the arguments from each side.
This sentencing threat is overkill. The stark reminder is that McDonnell broke no Virginia laws. I will be outraged if he receives a 10 year sentence.
RICHMOND — The anything-goes gift culture that once dominated Virginia’s Capitol is giving way to a game of legislative limbo, with state lawmakers and the governor competing to take the value of acceptable handouts ever lower.
Republican leaders of Virginia’s House of Delegates made their move Wednesday, proposing a $100 cap on gifts of any sort, including meals and travel. That standard would be tighter than what the legislature imposed on itself earlier this year — and what an ethics panel appointed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) recommended just nine days ago.
The announcement prompted McAuliffe to declare that he, too, would propose a $100 gift cap — and to suggest that the Republicans had gotten the idea from him.
All of these proposals and counterproposals stem from a gifts scandal involving former governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) and his wife, Maureen. McAuliffe and legislators made an initial series of reforms in the General Assembly session that began last January. Now comes a second push, triggered by the shock of the McDonnells’ conviction on federal corruption charges in September.
Her decision will not be popular. UVA President Teresa Sullivan has banned fraternities and sororities at UVA until Jan. 9. No one is quite sure what “Ban” means at this point. For now, all we can do is speculate. Since students live in fraternities and sororities, it would be fairly difficult to re-house all of them. However, Sullivan can and should shut down all social activities until January 9.
Bob McDonnell’s legal defense fund took in $77,660 in the third quarter and spent $104,726 according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
The largest contributor to The Restoration Fund in the quarter that ended Sept. 30 was Dwight C. Schar, a Northern Virginia home builder who donated $25,000.
Contributors in the third quarter also included Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, who contributed $1,000 and Patricia L. West, former chief deputy to Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who contributed $500.
West, a former Virginia Beach circuit court judge, now is a professor and associate dean of the law school at Regent University.
The Restoration Fund this week issued a new appeal for donations, saying the cost of the former governor’s legal defense is in the millions.
Donations to the fund continued to dip in the third quarter. It raised $92,894 in the second quarter, down from $149,242 in the year’s first three months.
RICHMOND — More than half of Virginians believe former governor Robert F. McDonnell should go to prison after a jury found him guilty of 11 counts of public corruption, according to a poll released Monday.
The poll, sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies, found 60 percent of adults said McDonnell (R) should be sentenced to prison time, while 28 percent say he should not and 12 percent weren’t sure or wouldn’t answer.
Are we just blood-thirsty? I think I would vote for long probation rather than prison. Prison is a waste of money because it is expensive. Neither McDonnell is a danger to society. Probation and community service (thousands of hours) helps Virginia. Prison costs Virginians and if federal prison, the rest of the country.
Is prison to punish or is it to remove those who are deemed dangerous from society?
For the record:
75 percent of Democrats, 70 percent of independents and 57 percent of Republicans want to see McDonnell go to prison.
The Supreme Court has refused to hear the challenges to same-sex marriages in 5 states, making it legal for gays in Virginia to marry.
The Supreme Court on Monday decided not to review rulings that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin, a surprising decision that shows the court is comfortable with the expansion of such unions throughout the nation.
The court’s decision came without explanation and puts off a decision about the constitutionality of gay marriage that would apply to all 50 states. But it sent a clear signal that a majority of the court did not feel the need to overturn lower court decisions that found state prohibitions were unconstitutional. According to a spokesman for Virginia’s Attorney General Mark Herring (D), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit will issue an order at 1 p.m. that will allow same-sex marriages to begin. At the same time, the commonwealth will recognize marriages performed in states where they already are legal.
The McDonnell trial is over. They were both found guilty on a majority of the counts. Both could easily go to prison. But is prison the best placement for the McDonnells?
I have gone soft. I admit it. However, let’s review a few points. The McDonnells did not break any Virginia laws. Secondly, I am not sure quid pro quo was clearly established.
For certain the McDonnells were greed, stupid and unethical. However, there really aren’t laws against those negative behaviors. Yes, they should have known better and clearly he can’t pile it all on his somewhat silly adolescent-like almost senior citizen wife.
We do have to ask ourselves though, is prison the smartest place for either of them? They just don’t seem like prison material to me. We also need to dispel the myths that there are “country-club” prisons. There really is no such thing. Even federal prisons are filled with dangerous gangsters and drug dealers, for heaven’s sake.
Prisons cost money. Prison is a billion dollar industry as it is. Why add to the burden with people who have already been broken. How about 1500 hours of community service in a community health center for the poor? I would even like to see teaching English in some school in the low rent district in Richmond for a year–something that humbles, not destroys. (although there are probably people out there who might disagree about destroys.)
I don’t want to see the McDonnells go to prison. I want to see Virginia make some laws that deal with ethics and how people are supposed to act while in public office. Being elected to public office is not a free pass of entitlement. Virginia lawmakers need to learn this lesson fast.
Disclaimer: I did not like 95% of Governor McDonnell’s decision while he was in office. I am certainly not a fan. I just don’t feel they should go to prison.
From the Washington Post:
IN THE end, it didn’t take long. After months of legal wrangling and public spinning; after five weeks of courtroom testimony; after two hours of a judge’s instructions in the legal niceties of the case, the jury in Robert F. and Maureen McDonnell’s trial knew public corruption when it saw it. Scarcely 48 hours after they got the case, the jurors rendered their verdict with no minced words: The McDonnells are guilty.
Until today, too many politicians in Richmond had convinced themselves of the commonwealth’s alleged exceptionalism — the supposed civility and ethical uprightness of the so-called Virginia Way. Convinced of its own abiding rectitude, Virginia’s political class has refused to enact laws with teeth to hold elected officials to decent standards of conduct in carrying out the people’s business. At the least, the McDonnell verdict should disabuse the old boys of their smug self-righteousness and their conviction that the state’s egregious absence of laws on public ethics is somehow all right. At the very least, it should end, once and for all, the common, cosseted view that legislation will not eradicate moral obtuseness. Of course it won’t; but a vacuum of laws will only encourage it.