Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said in court papers Monday that his conviction on several counts of public corruption was based on an overly broad definition of bribery and a flawed explanation of what constitutes an "official action'' by an elected official.
McDonnell made the arguments in the opening brief of an appeal filed in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Earlier in the day, his wife, Maureen McDonnell, filed notice with the court that she would also appeal her conviction.
Prosecutors will file their response to Bob McDonnell's brief later this month, and a hearing is set for the week of May 12. The schedule for Maureen McDonnell's appeal has not been set.
A jury in September found Bob and Maureen McDonnell guilty of accepting more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from former Star Scientific Inc. CEO Jonnie Williams in exchange for promoting his company's nutritional supplements.
The former Republican governor, once widely considered a possible running mate to former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was sentenced last month to two years in prison. His wife was sentenced on Feb. 20 to one year and one day in prison. Both are free on bond while they pursue appeals.
In their opening 103-page filing, Bob McDonnell's lawyers wrote that the prosecution's case was "built on a boundless definition of bribery'' that no other court has ever used.
"This definition would, if adopted here, make virtually every elected official in the Fourth Circuit a criminal,'' they wrote.
According to testimony at the McDonnells' six-week trial, the governor arranged meetings for Williams with administration officials while Williams was seeking state-financed research on his company's signature product, the tobacco-derived anti-inflammatory Anatabloc. The first couple also attended events promoting Anatabloc and hosted a product launch event at the Executive Mansion.
Williams lavished the McDonnells with gifts, including a $6,500 Rolex watch for the governor and about $20,000 in designer clothing and accessories for his wife, as well as low-interest loans to help them pay credit card bills and prop up their money-losing vacation rental properties in Virginia Beach.
Bob McDonnell argues in his appeals court brief that he only granted Williams routine political courtesies that do not amount to "official acts'' as applied to bribery laws.
"The Government's refusal to acknowledge the basic difference between 'official' acts, and every other act an official takes, led it to indict and convict Governor McDonnell for conduct that has never been criminal,'' the filing says.
Defense lawyers claim U.S. District Judge James Spencer gave jurors an overly broad definition of official acts and "erroneously failed to instruct the jury that goodwill gifts are not bribes.''
Spencer also failed to ensure that the jury was not influenced by extensive pretrial news coverage, the filing says.