Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's twice-delayed court date was called off yesterday, after her lawyers failed to reach a plea agreement with the state prosecutor and said she's too emotionally fragile to face the charges.
Mrs. McLean, who is accused of stealing thousands in public funds and steering a $1 million city lease to a building she owned with her husband, attempted suicide April 14 with an overdose of prescription pills and alcohol.
She remains despondent and under psychiatric care at the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, said her attorney, M. Cristina Gutierrez.
"Her continuing severe depressive state makes it difficult for us to go forward with anything right now," Ms. Gutierrez said yesterday. She added that the comptroller's health benefits have run out and she's nearing the end of a 14-day extension granted by the city.
Mrs. McLean, 50, was scheduled to appear in court next Tuesday for a rearraignment on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of felony theft.
She did not attend her initial hearing in late March because she was at Sheppard Pratt. A rearraignment was postponed last week after her lawyers cited her distraught emotional state.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli would not postpone the hearing again, saying yesterday he saw "no purpose to it."
Mrs. McLean's lawyers entered an innocent plea on her behalf in March, he said, and that can be changed up to the day of her trial, scheduled for June 8.
Negotiations between the prosecutor and Ms. Gutierrez apparently broke down because she is determined to spare her client any jail time. Mr. Montanarelli has been holding out for a sentence of 30 to 90 days, according to sources close to the talks.
The talks also included terms for repaying the $25,000 that Mrs. McLean allegedly funneled from the city by hiring a fictitious employee called Michele D. McCloud.
L "There is no agreement in this case," Mr. Montanarelli said.
"The only agreement is if her client wants to come in and plead guilty, then she can."
He added that the rearraignment was designed to allow Mrs. McLean to personally respond to the charges against her.
L "It appears she either cannot or will not do that," he said.
For the past three weeks, Ms. Gutierrez has been trying to work out arrangements with the state prosecutor and city government in which the comptroller could avoid a prison sentence and also be guaranteed continuing medical benefits.
Among her proposals: having Mrs. McLean retire on a medical disability pension.
It's unclear whether the comptroller would qualify, though. The city code prohibits benefits to any elected official convicted of a job-related misdemeanor or felony. Mrs. McLean is charged with felony theft, which carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison and a $1,000 fine.
"It appears to be clear from the code," said Ernest J. Glinka, administrator of the city pension system. He said he's received no request, but if he did get one, it would be turned over to a hearing examiner.
However, Ms. Gutierrez said "there are other options in terms of retiring." She would not elaborate.
Mrs. McLean, who rose from political obscurity to the third highest position in city government, could require years of psychiatric treatment, her attorney said.
As Mrs. McLean's career unraveled this winter amid legal pressures, she became increasingly depressed and has spent the past four months in and out of Sheppard Pratt.