Criminal Justice

'For the sanctity of the trees,' limit case filings, federal judge tells ex-governor's lawyers

A federal judge on Tuesday displayed his impatience with lawyers representing former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell and his wife in a political corruption case.

U.S. District Judge James Spencer asked the defense lawyers to limit their written disputes “for the sanctity of the trees” and refused their request to allow a related civil case to proceed, the Washington Post reports.

The defense lawyers had argued in court papers that prosecutors used an “unprecedented legal theory” in the case. The lawyers compared prosecutors to the Roman emperor Caligula, who tried to imprison people “for violating laws written in tiny lettering on a pillar too high to see.”

Defense lawyer James Burnham of Jones Day had argued prosecutors should be forced to withdraw a request to delay a related civil case that could produce valuable information for the McDonnells, the story says. Prosecutor Richard Cooke countered that defense lawyers were welcome to question witnesses in the civil case.

Spencer refused to intervene, saying another judge had approved the delay and the defense was “just dancing through fantasy land,” according to the Post report.

McDonnell and his wife are accused of accepting loans, gifts, vacations and the use of a private plane from Jonnie Williams Sr., then the CEO of diet supplement company Star Scientific. In exchange, prosecutors allege, the McDonnells used the prestige of their positions to benefit the company.

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