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UPDATES: Does Judge Spencer Have An Axe To Grind Against Bob McDonnell? (Answer: Yes)

mcdonnells4 [1]

WAVY is reporting on some breaking news that in 1997, then-Delegate Bob McDonnell voted against Judge Spencer’s wife getting nominated to the Virginia Supreme Court [2].

“I was very surprised this didn’t come to light sooner,” said Sonny Stallings, an attorney and former member of the state Senate. “It would really concern me having been in the legislature. Judgeship fights are very personal – not just political.”

No joke.

Now I know what you’re saying.  That how could one guy out of 100 really have made that sort of impact?

“Do you know why they were all rejected? Because they didn’t drink from the valued cup of Republican water and now you come back,” Cranwell said 17 years ago to a chorus of boos from the opposing party.

Republicans pushed back quickly. “What I am appalled by, disgusted by and shocked by is this racial card being played,” said delegate Vince Callahan (R-Alexandria) who died in September.

Although McDonnell didn’t engage in the racial fray, he (McDonnell) was part of orchestrating  Margaret Spencer’s defeat. He nominated Wiley F. Mitchell of Virginia Beach for the state’s highest court.

Not only did McDonnell go against Margaret Spencer in 1997, but a year later he was also in the minority against her for a Circuit Court judgeship. She was nominated in the House 78-18. McDonnell was in the dissenting 18. (emphasis added)

…and did the McDonnell team know of this before the trial?  Perhaps so, and did they raise a question then?

The 60-year-old former governor’s attorney Hank Asbill, who denied to comment, never raised the potential judicial bias before trial. A source told 10 On Your Side there was much discussion whether the issue should be brought up publicly.

Of course that’s not the question at hand — the question is whether Judge Spencer thought to recuse himself based on his past history with McDonnell?  Spencer and his wife declined to comment, but WAVY asks the real heart of the question:

Were some of the decision in 2014 payback for what happened in 1997 and 1998?

Given the background between Spencer and the former governor, folks have been convicted on far less — just ask Bob McDonnell.

Folks, I gotta say… this is pretty damn disturbing that only now this is coming to light.  Naturally, before and during the trial the McDonnell team wouldn’t have wanted to play this card — hang tight and expect a fair trial.  Yet given the jury instructions [3] which were deemed restrictive by many observers, the last minute pulling of a juror [4] who indicated he could not bring himself to convict the McDonnells, and the exceptionally low bar set for conviction [5]… and now rumors of some incredibly punitive sentencing based on what amounts to a handful of vitamin pills?

Something is not right.

UPDATE:  Lynn Mitchell piles on… [6] and the scores of Facebook comments illustrate that there’s some fairly broad sentiment that this is something that should have been out in the open.

UPDATE x2:  Paul Prados over at The Bull Elephant [7] says that McDonnell’s team really only has themselves to blame…

This extremely late revelation will have no positive effect on the appeal.  The only positive effect for the McDonnells is some potential credibility in the court of public opinion.  If raised by counsel on appeal the judges in the Fourth Circuit will rightly rip counsel to shreds over this issue.  If anything, revelation at this time will hurt the McDonnells.

The McDonnells may have been mistreated in the courtroom, but make no mistake, when it came to the choice to move forward with Judge Spencer, they, with the assistance of high-priced counsel, made the decision to stick with Judge Spencer long ago.

Of course, the WAVY article goes back and actually reviews this opportunity and the McDonnell team’s decision to stick it out, for fear of angering Spencer should the motion be brought forward and fail…

UPDATE x3:  The ever inestimable Jim Bacon chimes in [8]:

I don’t know enough to say one way or another. I’d like to know more about that 1997 vote. If McDonnell had been prominently involved in defeating Ms. Spencer’s Supreme Court judgeship, the conflict-of-interest idea might have merit. If he was but one of fifty or so members of the House of Delegates who voted against her in a party-line vote, it’s more difficult to imagine that Mr. Spencer bore a grudge.

Given the details of the WAVY vote, McDonnell made the motion to consider another nomination which by all outward appearances was a charged and intemperate debate on the House floor back in 1997 — and was so convinced of his choice that McDonnell joined 17 other delegates in voting Spencer’s wife down again for a circuit court appointment in 1998.

I dunno folks… that seems particularly deep seated in terms of opposition.  The question is rightly raised.

UPDATE x4:  The Washington Post seems to think that we’re looking at a sentencing of 10 to 12 years [9]:

White collar criminal defense attorney Matthew Kaiser said McDonnell’s range was likely increased because he was a high-ranking public official, because he took more than one payment from Williams and because the total value of the gifts he received was so high. Kaiser said the probation officer also likely faulted McDonnell because his testimony stood counter to the jury’s verdict.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will still have an opportunity to argue to the probation officer about whether the range was correctly calculated — though Kaiser said the probation office often “sticks to its guns.” After that, both sides can try to convince Spencer himself to modify the recommended range.

At least we’re not talking about 55 years behind bars anymore, though there are a number of voices (left and right) that seem to want to throw the book at McDonnell… for various and sundry reasons.

UDPATE x5:  Chris Dovi — a Richmond-area journalist with impeccable credentials — offered what has to be the best synopses I have read thus far [10] on the entire kerfluffle:

This is unbelievably sad. I’m sure there are plenty in politics who will cheer this, but it’s a blow by association to both sides of the aisle, and to all in politics. This guy took gifts. But that apparently had long been the Virginia Way, according to so many reports — and even according (implied) to so much reform legislation over the past year. The General Assembly will this year consider limiting gifts to $100. I’d just note that $100 is a pretty nice gift.

The Virginia Way is to do business in the light, and to do it with a light conscience because it’s right for Virginia.

Excellently stated, though I would argue over whether the defense “everyone else is doing it too” is the right call.  What’s more important here is that the punishment fit the crime (if one has been committed), and that all cards are on the table — whether that’s gifts, relationships, or circumstance.