A federal appeals court has approved former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell's request to remain free while he appeals his corruption convictions.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond said McDonnell's appeal raises a substantial question of law or fact that could warrant reversal or a new trial.
The ruling said McDonnell is "not likely to flee or pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community if released."
In a statement released Monday afternoon, the former governor said, “I am grateful for today's ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit allowing me to remain free on bond pending my appeal. 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 want to thank my family, friends and legal team for their tireless support and unwavering belief in my innocence. At this time our family requests privacy.”
The ruling reverses an earlier one. On Jan. 13, Judge James Spencer had denied a request by McDonnell's attorneys for him to remain free during the appeal.
The court ordered that briefs in the case be filed by March 2 and set a May 12 hearing.
McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were found guilty last year of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts, trips and loans from wealthy vitamin executive Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his products.
Williams testified under immunity as the prosecution's star witness in a case that exposed the details of the McDonnells' shaky finances and troubled marriage. McDonnell testified in his own defense during the six-week trial, acknowledging that he accepted Williams' largesse, but did nothing for him in return other than extend routine political courtesies. He was convicted of 11 counts.
Prosecutors originally sought a sentence of more than 10 years for McDonnell, whose lawyers recommended three years of community service.
McDonnell was sentenced to a two-year prison term, which was scheduled to begin Feb. 9. But his attorneys argued the appeal process could take almost as long as the sentence itself, and asked the court to allow him to remain free on bail while he appeals.
McDonnell's attorneys said the appeal would raise substantial questions, including whether the government's interpretation of an "official act" is correct.
Federal prosecutors had opposed the request, saying the appeal isn't strong and that McDonnell's claim that the judge defined an "official act" too broadly isn't likely to result in a reversal of his convictions.
Last week, the Virginia State Bar Disciplinary Board announced it would suspend McDonnell's law license, citing his felony public corruption convictions. The suspension officially begins this Thursday.
He was directed to appear before the disciplinary panel Feb. 20 to show cause why his license should not be further suspended or revoked. According to the bar, McDonnell's license also was administratively suspended for nonpayment of dues to the organization since Oct. 15.
Maureen McDonnell will be sentenced Feb. 20.