WASHINGTON (June 27, 2016) – Holland & Knight client and former governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell today won a decisive victory in the U.S. Supreme Court. The justices, in a unanimous decision, rejected the government's allegations that Gov. McDonnell violated federal bribery laws and vacated all of his convictions for alleged public corruption. The case has been remanded to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Holland & Knight has served as Gov. McDonnell's trial and appellate counsel in this case since June 2013.
"I want to congratulate the attorneys and professional staff for their outstanding work on this precedent-setting case," said Steven Sonberg, managing partner of Holland & Knight. "The commitment and tireless efforts on behalf of our client, former Gov. Bob McDonnell, reflect the very best of Holland & Knight."
"I am grateful for the remarkable work of the litigators and staff on this most important case," said John Hogan, chair of Holland & Knight's Litigation Section.
Beginning in July 2014, Holland & Knight defended Gov. McDonnell in a nearly two-month jury trial in federal district court in Richmond, Va. At trial, Holland & Knight successfully defended Gov. McDonnell against charges of bank fraud and crafted the trial record that ultimately allowed for reversal. At the trial's conclusion, Holland & Knight also argued that the district court's proposed instruction to the jury on the definition of "official acts"—a definition that encompassed virtually any activity by a public official concerning any subject—was too broad; instead, Holland & Knight argued the court should instruct the jury that "merely arranging a meeting, attending an event, hosting a reception, or making a speech are not, standing alone, ‘official acts.'" The District Court declined to give Holland & Knight's requested instruction, and the jury convicted on the public corruption counts.
The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions based on that same definition of "official acts." Gov. McDonnell then requested the U.S. Supreme Court to allow him to remain free on bail pending review of his case. The Supreme Court granted that request—the first of its kind in over 20 years—and on January 15, 2016, granted Gov. McDonnell's petition for certiorari, indicating that the Court would review the definition of "official acts" as used in the federal corruption laws.
Before the Supreme Court, attorneys for Gov. McDonnell successfully argued that the government's definition of "official acts" was too broad. The justices unanimously rejected the government's definition and adopted a narrowed interpretation of the term "official acts." Importantly, the Supreme Court specifically held that "[s]etting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so)—without more— does not fit th[e] definition of an official act," which is precisely what Holland & Knight had argued earlier. The Supreme Court vacated all of Gov. McDonnell's convictions and remanded the case to the Fourth Circuit for further review.
The unanimous decision by the Supreme Court—and its rejection of the government's understanding of the law and theory of prosecution—will have a tremendous impact on prosecutors and public officials for years to come. For Holland & Knight client Bob McDonnell, the Supreme Court's decision is more personal: it means his convictions are gone and he now, perhaps, can begin rebuilding his life.
McDonnell v. United States, No. 15-474 slip op. (June 27, 2016). Read the U.S. Supreme Court opinion.
For additional information about this case, please contact John L. Brownlee.
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