Transparency News 9/5/14

Friday, September 5, 2014
State and Local Stories

A federal jury on Thursday found former Virginia governor Robert F. McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, guilty of public corruption — sending an emphatic message that they believed the couple sold the office once occupied by Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson to a free-spending Richmond businessman for golf outings, lavish vacations and $120,000 in sweetheart loans. After three days of deliberations, the seven men and five women who heard weeks of gripping testimony about the ­McDonnells’ alleged misdeeds unanimously found that the couple conspired to lend the prestige of the governor’s office to Jonnie R. Williams Sr. in a nefarious exchange for his largesse. The verdict means that Robert McDonnell, the first governor in Virginia history to be charged with a crime, now holds an even more unwanted distinction — the first to be convicted of one.
Washington Post

If you see a cop while you're out and about, don't be afraid to stop and say, 'hi." That's the message officers at the Newport News Police Department hope to leave with residents at their monthly "Coffee with a Cop" events at restaurants across the city. "We're here for the community, and we're part of the community," Sgt. Scott Williams said at the department's fourth event at Angelo's Steak and Pancake House Thursday morning. "Anything we can do to open the lines of communication and get the message across," he said.
Daily Press

The Danville School Board voted Thursday to use a national search firm to help find the next superintendent for the district. The board made the decision following five public input sessions over the last two weeks. Board Chairman Ed Polhamus also announced the Chatham-based Future of the Piedmont Foundation plans to fund the search committee’s bill, rather than use public funding. The price of the search will depend on the firm used, with Polhamus estimating a cost between $17,000-$30,000.
Register & Bee

The $25,000 defamation suit filed earlier this year by former Culpeper Town Manager Kim Alexander against former Culpeper Mayor Chip Coleman has been dismissed. Fredericksburg attorney Jennifer Parish, representing Coleman through the town's insurance carrier, informed Culpeper County General District Court Clerk Cheryl Phillips of the resolution in the matter through a letter Thursday. Alexander's attorney, Broderick Dunn of Fairfax, declined any further comment.



Former Gov. Bob McDonnell has made history in a way Virginians do not want their history made. Multiple guilty verdicts place him in ignominy. He is the first Virginia governor convicted of a felony. He will not have a chance to repeat Raymond Donovan’s question. "Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?" Donovan, secretary of labor during the Reagan administration, asked after his acquittal on corruption charges. He is remembered primarily for the question, which suggests his post-trial reputation rose.

The verdict marks a devastating end to the public career of a popular politician, and it highlights — again — the persistent and shameful failure of the commonwealth’s elected leaders to hold themselves to even minimal ethical standards.

The people have spoken. Twelve of them, anyway. The federal jury didn’t just convict former Gov. Bob McDonnell on 11 of 13 corruption-related counts (and former First Lady Maureen McDonnell on nine of 13). It also essentially convicted politics as usual in Virginia. Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about McDonnell’s conviction – and the thing that ought to really get the attention of politicians – is that the governor didn’t really do much of anything in return for all those gifts. Still, the jury’s verdict speaks pretty loudly to how a lot of Virginians feel about the business of politics. Maybe legislators will get the message. More likely, they won’t.
Roanoke Times

It was clear from the outset of the federal investigation that the McDonnell family had an extraordinary view of what kind of gifts are acceptable to take from someone they’d only known a few months. Details from the investigation and the trial were tawdry, tacky, embarrassing to the state. It was a vulgar parade of grifterism that was beneath Virginia. It should impel Virginia leaders to make drastic changes to Virginia’s gift laws. It is incumbent upon state leaders and the citizens who vote them into office to make sure that the future never again contains such a circus of ridiculous excess. We can do so by learning some lessons from this trial.
Free Lance-Star

The jurors reached their decision far more quickly than is typical in corruption trials in other states. In Illinois, where juries are more familiar with political corruption, it took one jury 14 days in 2010 to convict former Gov. Rod Blagojevich of one count of lying to a federal agent and decide they were unable to agree on 23 other charges. The next year, at his retrial, a second jury took 10 days to convict him on 17 counts. But the verdict in a case critical to the McDonnells' prosecution — the 2009 conviction of former U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-La. — came in just five days. Judge James Spencer's instructions to the McDonnell jury relied on several key definitions from the Jefferson case, which confirmed a new standard for what corruption entails, George Mason University School of Law Assistant Dean Richard Kelsey said. "They said you don't have to show a formal agreement, an 'I'll give you this and you'll do that,' " Kelsey said. "After all, the bad guys know about a wink and a nod."
Dave Ress, Daily Press

You don’t need a law degree to know that it’s important for jurors to believe that a defendant is honest. In this case, jurors were told over and over that the McDonnells were a fundamentally dishonest couple, willing to fake affection in public, slipping into stony silence behind closed doors. During their four years in the Governor’s Mansion, Bob and Maureen McDonnell were regularly photographed holding hands and posing with their five kids, looking like ordinary, wholesome Virginians. By the end of opening statements, the jury was disabused of any notion of ordinariness.
Kerry Dougherty, Virginian-Pilot