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US prosecutors urge justices to deny McDonnell appeal

(AP) Federal prosecutors filed papers Tuesday opposing former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s bid to have the U.S. Supreme Court review his public corruption convictions.

In its response to McDonnell’s petition, Justice Department lawyers disputed the former Republican governor’s claim that he was convicted based on an overly broad definition of bribery that could put virtually every public official in jeopardy of prosecution.

“The court of appeals upheld petitioner’s convictions based on the unexceptionable proposition that a public official violates federal corruption statutes where, as here, he accepts personal benefits in exchange for his agreement to influence government matters,” the government saai in the 33-page brief.

A jury in September 2014 convicted McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, of doing favors for wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for more than $165,000 in gifts and loans. Williams was seeking state university research on his company’s signature anti-inflammatory product.

“Ample evidence established that petitioner’s quid pro quo arrangement with Williams carried an expectation that petitioner would influence government matters,” the government’s brief says. “Williams was clear about what he wanted from the start.”

The former governor was sentenced to two years in prison and his wife to one year and one day. Both remain free while they pursue separate appeals.

Here are some questions and answers about the status of McDonnell’s case:

Q: What are the chances the Supreme Court will take the case?

A: In recent years, the court has taken about 1 percent of the more than 8,000 appeals that are filed annually. Resolving disagreements among lower courts and settling legal issues of national significance are the top two reasons that prompt the justices to get involved in a case.

Q: Who decides?

A: Four of nine justices must vote to accept a case.

Q: What is the time frame for making a decision?

A: The court has no deadline, but typically will decide within about six weeks.

Q: If the court takes the case, when will it be heard?

A: If the court acts by mid-January, the case probably would be argued in April and decided by the end of June. If the case misses the informal mid-January cutoff, arguments wouldn’t take place until October at the earliest and a decision probably would not be issued before 2017.

Q: On what merits might the court take the case?

A: McDonnell raises two main issues: that he was convicted based on an overly broad interpretation of what constitutes an “official act” by a government official, and that jurors were not adequately questioned about whether they had formed an opinion based on news coverage of the case.

Q: Will McDonnell stay out of prison?

A: He will remain free unless the justices decide not to hear his appeal or they hear the case and rule against him.

Q: Where does Maureen McDonnell’s case stand?

A: Her appeal is pending in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has put the case on hold until the Supreme Court decides what to do with the former governor’s case.

— LARRY O’DELL, Associated Press

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