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4th Circuit declines to hear Ravenell bail request en banc, but several judges dissent

The judges of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals have voted not to reconsider a request for bail from Baltimore defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell, who is set to begin a federal prison sentence for money laundering next month.

The vote by the appellate panel was split, though, and several judges signed onto a scathing dissent that accused the majority of treating Ravenell unfairly.

Ravenell petitioned last month for the court to meet en banc and reconsider granting him bail or staying his sentence while he appeals his conviction. Both the trial judge and a split three-judge panel of 4th Circuit judges previously ruled against letting Ravenell stay out of prison during his appeal.

Asking for reconsideration from the full 4th Circuit was an unusual, last-resort request that Ravenell was unlikely to win.

The brief dissenting opinion, however, shows intense disagreement over the 4th Circuit’s decision. The opinion draws a parallel to the case of former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, who was found guilty of public corruption in 2014, granted bail while his case was on appeal, and ultimately avoided jail time when the U.S. Supreme Court threw out his conviction.

“Try as one might, one can point to no discernible difference that justifies granting release pending appeal to Governor McDonnell and denying it to Ravenell,” Judge James Andrew Wynn wrote in the dissent. “It is an inconsistency that my good colleagues decline to confront. That’s not fair.”

The majority did not author an opinion. According to an order issued Wednesday, nine judges voted against rehearing Ravenell’s request en banc. Five judges voted to hear the case, including Wynn and Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory.

Three of those judges joined Wynn’s dissent.

Ravenell’s lawyer, Peter White, declined to comment on the 4th Circuit’s decision.

A jury convicted Ravenell, 63, of one count of money laundering at a three-week trial in December. Federal prosecutors alleged that Ravenell helped launder nearly $2 million in drug money on behalf of a former criminal defense client who ran a marijuana trafficking organization.

Ravenell, a well-known defense attorney, denied the charges and tried to raise questions about the credibility of the government’s key witness, Richard Byrd. Byrd was Ravenell’s former client and testified that the lawyer served as a consigliere to the drug trafficking organization, laundering money and advising on how to avoid law enforcement.

Jurors acquitted Ravenell of most charges, including racketeering and narcotics conspiracy.

Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, who oversaw the trial, sentenced Ravenell in June to four years and nine months in prison.

Ravenell’s lawyers have argued repeatedly that the split verdict means jurors did not believe Byrd’s account, and that Ravenell was convicted of laundering a much smaller amount of money, about $55,000. The defense claims that money was exempt from federal money laundering law because it was payment for criminal defense services and should not have been the basis for a conviction.

Ravenell’s defense team has also argued that the criminal offense for which Ravenell was convicted took place outside the five-year statute of limitations and that jurors should have been instructed on the timing issue before deliberating.

The dissenting judges of the 4th Circuit concluded the statute of limitations issue is worthy of attention. Wynn wrote that Ravenell’s case calls for bail pending appeal even more than McDonnell’s did.

“The issue of whether a substantial question is present is far more evident in Ravenell’s case than it was in Governor McDonnell’s case,” the judge wrote. “Ravenell points to an extraordinarily close question of whether the trial judge should have instructed the jury on the statute of limitations on the basis of significant evidence that the statute of limitations bars all of the conduct related to Ravenell’s offense from criminal prosecution.”