An Open Letter Thanking the McDonnell Team (Or, Why We Can’t Give Up)

September 9, 2016

By: Sara Kropf

Dear Governor McDonnell’s Legal Team:

As you probably know, the government decided not to retry Governor Bob McDonnell yesterday. This is big news. It follows his victory in the Supreme Court.

He won. You won.

Was this the best paragraph you’ve ever read?

The United States respectfully moves for this Court to remand this case to the district court for the United States to file a motion to dismiss the indictment with prejudice under Fed. R. Crim. P. 48(a). The defendant does not oppose this motion.

There’s a lot that could be said –and has been said well by others—about the importance of this case to rein in the government’s aggressive prosecution of public officials under an extraordinarily vague statute. Your victory on that front alone is incredible. (Sheldon Silver will likely be sending you his own thank you note.)

I’m not going to talk about that. I’m just going to thank you—from one white collar lawyer to another.

Here’s what struck me about this win. You were, quite simply, relentless. Seriously, you never gave up. You filed motion after motion, preserved error after error, and appealed until the cows came home. I’ll bet the government was annoyed by all of your motions along the way.

I’m not privy to Governor McDonnell’s conversations with you, but I can pretty much guarantee none of you said, “Hey, don’t worry about the convictions. We just need to appeal to the Supreme Court. It will take the case and you will win. It’s a lock.” I’m sure you talked about how it was very possible the Supreme Court wouldn’t take the case, how it was possible you could lose there too.

This case reminds me of the Senator Ted Stevens case. I read Rob Cary’s excellent book about his representation of Senator Stevens. It’s a very interesting book because you get an insider view of how the best lawyers work. (You should write a book.)

The Stevens lawyers, like all of you, never gave up. They too filed motion after motion and kept trying to win even after Stevens has been convicted at trial. And they did win.

On a related note, a friend of mine, Brian Stolarz, wrote a book about getting a client off death row. He too was relentless. It’s a quality of great lawyers.

I wanted to thank you because your representation of Governor McDonnell is a reminder that we cannot give up on winning for our clients, even if it looks like a lost cause.

Let’s face it, both Senator Stevens and Governor McDonnell were represented by some of the best white collar lawyers in the country. They were supported by incredible teams of lawyers.

But just being a good lawyer is not enough. You both lost at trial. (Sorry to point that out.) But you didn’t throw up your hands and cry uncle. Instead, you dug in and looked for a way to win.

I like to think I’m that kind of lawyer—the kind that never gives up. It’s hard when my client doesn’t have the funds to cover every possible motion that I’d like to file. It’s hard, too, when there is enough evidence of wrongdoing by my client that makes the possibility of winning at trial low, and the government offers a very good plea deal.

Hard is what we do for a living. If I wanted easy, I’d have picked another job.

So, thank you. Thanks for winning this case, not only because it resets some precedent that hurt many of our clients but also because it has reminded me why I can’t (and won’t) ever give up on a client.




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