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JOHN KITZHABERIt’s probably too early to celebrate, but former Gov. John Kitzhaber might benefit from Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the September 2014 bribery conviction of former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

Lewis & Clark Law School professor Tung Yin says the Supreme Court’s June 27 ruling sets a higher bar for some official corruption cases, which could have an impact on any federal investigation into Kitzhaber’s dealings with environmental organizations that employed his fiancé, Cylvia Hayes.

COURTESY PHOTO: LEWIS & CLARK LAW SCHOOL/ STEVE HAMBUCHEN - Lewis & Clark professor Tung Yin. Monday’s ruling makes it clear that federal prosecutors would need to show a definite quid pro quo in official actions and decisions to make a bribery or corruption charge stick, Yin says.

"We don’t know yet what kind of impact it will have on the Kitzhaber case,” says Yin, who has followed the Kitzhaber-Hayes case closely. “If you’re rating this as how good a day it was for John Kitzhaber, you’d have to say it was a good day. It’s not a great day, because he’s not off the hook yet.

“How helpful it is to his defense depends on a lot of things we don’t know from the defense or the government’s side of the case.”

A higher bar

McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, were indicted in January 2014 on federal corruption charges for their links to $175,000 in cash, gifts and loans to the governor by Virginia businessman Jonnie Williams, chief executive of Star Scientific, a company that made a nutritional supplement from a compound found in tobacco.

McDonnell and his wife were convicted in September 2014, and the governor was sentenced in January 2015 to two years in prison. Maureen McDonnell was sentenced to 12 months in prison.

COURTESY PHOTO - Former Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.Robert McDonnell appealed, saying federal prosecutors failed to show a direct connection between the loans, gifts and cash and any official action benefitting Williams or his company. The Supreme Court agreed, saying the case as “distasteful,” but prosecutors didn’t show official quid pro quo.

That’s where the Kitzhaber impact comes in, Yin says. The former Oregon governor, who resigned in mid-February 2014, faces both federal and state investigations for his actions related to at least five companies and organizations linked to Hayes, his fiancé.

Kitzhaber and Hayes both deny that they did anything wrong. They’ve retained separate defense attorneys.

No charges have been filed in the cases.

Yin says Kitzhaber could benefit from the McDonnell decision because it sets a specific legal standard for federal corruption convictions. Hayes, however, probably won’t get much help from the decision, Yin says, because her case involves other issues, like taxes and reported income.

“It sets the bar very clearly now, and it’s a higher bar, saying that this is what you have to show for this kind of case,” he says. “Now the government has to look at its evidence and decide what to do with it.”

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