RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A federal judge threatened to send Former Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife to jail Monday, if a critical order in the upcoming corruption trial is not obeyed.
At issue is the first legal battle of the case – whether or not Bob and Maureen McDonnell can talk to family members and friends about the substance of the indictment.
Federal prosecutors argue that close companions may be called as witnesses, and do not want stories or memories to become clouded.
The McDonnells' defense team argues that the indictment has traumatized the former First Family, and discussing the case would be necessary for the McDonnell's support structure.
Judge David J. Novak ruled Monday that witnesses may not discuss the substance of the case with Bob or Maureen McDonnell, even if the witnesses are close friends or family members. Novak said if the order is violated, the government would find out, and both defendants could be taken into custody.
"If those orders are violated, I put people in jail," Novak said from the bench. "I don't care about what your position may have been in the past… we will find out in cross examination or in interviews that the order has been violated."
Novak then asked the former Governor and First Lady if they understood. They both quietly replied, "yes, your honor."
Under Monday's decision, both the government and the defense will outline which witnesses could present substantive information. Both sides will swap witness lists by the close of business Wednesday, providing the McDonnells with a better idea of who will fall under the order.
Both Bob and Maureen McDonnell may speak with each other about all facts of the case, with Novak citing spousal privilege.
"I'm not going to come between husband and wife," Novak said. "I don't think either Bob or Maureen McDonnell will obstruct justice. This is just a prophylactic measure."
The McDonnell's daughter, Cailin, joined her mother and father in federal court, watching behind them in the small room seating 50.
The former Governor kissed his daughter on the cheek while leaving, telling reporters, "We have a strong family, we're doing quite well, thank you."
Novak continued to scold the defense team seconds into Monday's hearing, expressing concerns that the corruption trial could become a trial by press conference.
"You may be the first criminal defense attorney in history who wants his client to talk to everybody," Novak said to defense attorney John L. Brownlee. "We're trying not to make this situation any worse than it already is."
Under the order, witnesses with substantive information may have contact with the defendants. The list of potential witnesses will not be publicly filed, only exchanged between attorneys. Witnesses may be added to the lists after Wednesday, as preparations for the July 28 trial continue.