By Alan Suderman
RICHMOND — A federal judge denied a request Tuesday by the defense team of former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, to limit prosecutors’ involvement in a civil case against the government’s key witness, the latest in a string of failed motions by the defense team.
Judge James R. Spencer likened the McDonnells’ legal team’s reasoning to “just dancing through fantasy land” and urged the defense and prosecutors to limit their legal wrangling before trial in consideration of the “sanctity” of the trees.
Defense lawyers have sharply questioned prosecutors’ conduct in multiple court motions since the former first couple was indicted in January.
On Friday, Spencer rejected two motions previously filed by McDonnell seeking immediate disclosure of certain evidence. On Monday, Spencer rejected a request that prosecutors provide a more detailed description of the alleged crimes committed by the McDonnells.
The McDonnells were indicted on 14 counts shortly after the governor left office earlier this year. Prosecutors allege that the former first couple accepted more than $165,000 in gifts and loans from the former CEO of a dietary supplement maker in exchange for improperly helping to promote his products. The McDonnells, who attended Tuesday’s hearing but did not speak, have denied breaking any laws.
Once a rising star in the Republican Party who was considered as a possible vice-presidential pick, the federal investigation and subsequent charges have all but destroyed McDonnell’s political career.
At issue in court Tuesday was a request made by prosecutors to delay a civil case involving Jonnie Williams, the former CEO of Star Scientific Inc. who is expected to be the government’s star witness against the McDonnells.
Williams is being sued by multiple investors who claim he falsely promoted his company’s products.
Prosecutors said the delay in one of the civil cases was necessary to prevent the collection of evidence that would otherwise be unavailable in a criminal trial. The judge in that case granted the request.
Lawyers for the former governor argued the prosecutors’ request for a delay interfered with the defense team’s ability to collect evidence and prepare for trial.
Spencer disagreed, saying he saw no evidence of interference or that the delayed civil case impacts the McDonnell’s criminal case.
The criminal trial is set to begin in July.
Lawyers for the McDonnells were more successful in convincing Spencer to order that subpoenas be sent to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Securities and Exchange Commission for copies of their files on Williams and his former company, Star Scientific.
The subpoenas were not discussed at the hearing, but court records show that they were issued by the clerk of the court Tuesday.
In December, the FDA sent a letter to Star Scientific Inc. stating that it apparently failed to get required federal approval before marketing two products. The company also was the subject of a securities investigation, but federal prosecutors said the SEC has informed them the informal inquiry is now closed.
The defense team said they need the agencies’ records to prepare for trial — where Williams’ credibility is likely to come under attack — but couldn’t get them through Freedom of Information Act requests.
Prior to adjourning Tuesday, Spencer urged the defense not to assume that prosecutors were pursuing their case improperly and urged greater cooperation between the opposing sides in preparation for the trial.
“Get to it,” he said.