McDonnell trial — Bob’s testimony is over

Bob McDonnell finished testifying Tuesday, wrapping up 4 1/2 days of testimony.  He and his attorneys must have been aware that on Monday he came across as uncertain and weak on cross examination, because Tuesday he was more confrontational with the prosecutor.  Michael Dry kept returning to the theme that the McDonnells were in financial trouble, while on re-direct examination, McDonnell’s attorney Hank Asbill returned to the theme of marital discord.

One point that the prosecution made a lot of was something that I’m not sure is really a problem for McDonnell.   There was a reception at the Governor’s Mansion on February 29, 2012, for health-care leaders.  Maureen McDonnell had arranged to get 25 Star Scientific employees onto the guest list, including Jonnie Williams and his son.  Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association, which McDonnell had once chaired, had tried to get some of its big donors — including executives from Pfizer and WellMed Medical Group — on the guest list, but they were not included.  McDonnell said he did not know that Maureen had added the Star Scientific execs to the guest list, and he did not know that the RGA donors wanted to come.  Although that seems like an instance of the Governor giving Jonnie Williams and Star Scientific some special favors, it is hard to see any “official action” here.  And there has not yet been any evidence that contradicts Bob when he says he didn’t know what Maureen was doing on this.

I have been thinking that the defense team would want to introduce some evidence from leaders of other companies that would basically say, “This is what happens when a governor wants to support a company — he comes to the ribbon-cutting, he gets his staff to set up meetings with cabinet secretaries, etc.” The Times-Dispatch article describes how the defense got into that by having McDonnell explain how he would “do the right thing” for a Virginia employer:

He said doing the right thing meant standing in front of corporate logos and speaking at corporate events for companies doing business in Virginia. The defense illustrated the point late Tuesday afternoon by introducing a 402-page exhibit consisting solely of pictures of the former governor appearing at events.

Asbill asked if McDonnell had ever visited a site or held a news conference for Star Scientific.

“You never did that for Star?” Asbill asked.

“No,” said McDonnell.

At the end of the day, Judge Spencer told the jury that there will be one more defense witness — expected to be Bob’s former secretary, Pam Watts. (The judge can’t hold Bob McDonnell to that, but if he comes in on Wednesday with more witnesses, the JURY will be kind of ticked off.) Then Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers will have the right to present evidence, and they have told the judge that they expect their evidence to take 5 to 6 hours. So it appears highly likely that the defense will rest by the end of the day on Wednesday. Then the prosecution can come back with rebuttal evidence. My guess is that although they will be tempted to present a lot of little nitpicky bits of rebuttal evidence, the prosecution will keep it short. Assuming that they present their rebuttal on Thursday morning, my guess is that they will recall Jonnie Williams to say things like, “We did too talk about how he was going to help Star Scientific,” or to rebut specific little points that Bob McDonnell may have made.

In a case like this, after almost 5 weeks, the judge and the attorneys are like the proverbial horse heading for the barn. This impulse is particularly strong right now — there is a holiday weekend looming. The jury might be sequestered during deliberations, and they aren’t going to want to have their Labor Day weekend ruined. The scheduling of the end of the trial would be a lot more comfortable if we were looking at the end of the evidence on Tuesday rather than on Thursday.

Which leads to some scheduling issues — how long do the attorneys want to argue the case? My own experience with long trials is that just because the trial has been long doesn’t mean that the jury is interested in a long argument. I don’t think I have ever given a closing argument that went beyond 1 hour an 15 minutes; there is an old adage that the mind can only absorb what the hind end can endure. After about 1 hour, jurors start looking at their watches. After 1 hour and 15 minutes, they are tapping on their watches to see if the hands are still moving. If the prosecution evidence is brief on Thursday morning, the judge might try to get the arguments in Thursday afternoon, and that would mean that the attorneys would have to resist the urge to be long-winded.

Which then leads to another issue — has the judge decided on the jury instructions? As of Tuesday night, he had not done so, and he may have to have a hearing on the instructions on Wednesday or Thursday before arguments.

Which then leads to the next scheduling issue — how long might we expect deliberations to take? Judge J. Harry Michael, long the federal district judge in Charlottesville, had a rule of thumb — one hour of deliberations for every day of testimony. There have been about 20 days of testimony, so that would suggest that jury deliberations should take 2-3 days. Which then gets back to the weekend issues…

Judge Spencer might prefer to have closing arguments after the Labor Day holiday, and let the jury start deliberating Tuesday afternoon. He may ask the jurors how they want to play it — do they want to get started before the holiday, or wait until next week? It’s a tough call, and Judge Spencer has shown some impatience with the slow pace of the trial, but no one wants a jury to feel rushed to make a decision.