- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - If prosecutors get their way, former Virginia first lady Maureen McDonnell could become the first modern-day governor’s spouse sent to prison for felonies she was convicted of committing while she held the mostly ceremonial position.

McDonnell will be sentenced Friday in U.S. District Court on eight public corruption counts. Federal prosecutors have recommended an 18-month prison term - six months less than former Gov. Bob McDonnell got when he was convicted on 11 counts last month. Maureen McDonnell’s attorneys are asking for probation and 4,000 hours of community service.

According to scholars and research conducted by The Associated Press, first spouses of other states have had lesser brushes with the law - such as a former West Virginia first lady who was acquitted more than a century ago on charges of forging her first husband’s signature. None, however, has confronted the prospect of a prison term for a felony conviction.

More recently, former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, faced questions over whether she was personally enriched by the relationship. Neither has been charged.

The McDonnells were convicted in September of doing favors for the CEO of a nutritional supplements company in exchange for $165,000 in gifts and loans.

Few if any academic studies focus on the first spouses of the states, with most scholars studying the first ladies of the White House, but historian Lewis L. Gould is probably the closest thing to an expert in the field. Gould, a professor emeritus in American history at the University of Texas, wrote a research paper in the 1980s on the spouses of governors, an outgrowth of his work on first ladies of the White House.

The first ladies of the states borrow heavily from the public-service example of the spouses of the presidents - McDonnell focused on health care, military families and promotion of Virginia wine - but generally have little guidance on the demands of the position, he said.

Maureen McDonnell’s lawyers said in court papers that she was never comfortable in the role of first lady, and she cracked under the pressure and the fear of letting her husband down.

Gould and other scholars said the experience of Maureen McDonnell, as well as Oregon’s first couple, is a cautionary tale for present and future first ladies.

“They’re part of a small sorority who talk to each other about their mutual problems,” Gould said.

The historian envisions discussions among the first ladies in years to come along the lines of, “You have to watch out. Look what happened to one of us in Virginia.”

___

News researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.

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