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Supreme Court Ruling Could Affect Investigation Into Kitzhaber, Hayes

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

Alan Sylvestre/OPB

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a federal corruption case involving the former governor of Virginia could have implications in Oregon.

The high court Monday overturned the 2014 conviction of Virginia’s Bob McDonnell, who was accused with his wife of accepting gifts in exchange for political favors. The court ruled prosecutors failed to connect those gifts and specific actions which happened as a result.

While the details are different, there are parallels to the criminal ethics investigation of former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. Kitzhaber stepped down last year but no charges have been filed.

Tung Yin, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, said the ruling could complicate prosecutors’ attempts to pin charges on the former Oregon governor.

“Because now they think, ‘OK, well, before we would have been satisfied with what we have, but now we need to go do more work to make sure we have enough to satisfy this new ruling,’” Yin said.

On the other hand, Yin said, the new standard may cause investigators to ditch the case entirely if it becomes clear they won’t have enough evidence.

The Supreme Court’s ruling doesn’t mean McDonnell is in the clear. Justices sent his case back to a lower court, a move which allows federal prosecutors to retry it, if they choose.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct name of the Lewis & Clark Law School.

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