Judge rules McLean competent for trial

June 07, 1994|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Sun Staff Writer

Nearly two months after Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's suicide attempt raised her mental condition as an issue in her fraud and misconduct case, a judge said yesterday that she is competent to stand trial -- as early as tomorrow.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Joseph P. McCurdy Jr. refused to grant a three-month postponement to allow Mrs. McLean to receive more psychiatric treatment. Still, the comptroller's trial -- long scheduled to start tomorrow -- could be delayed for weeks because of her lawyer's other trial commitments.

The legal maneuvering surrounding Mrs. McLean continued yesterday.

Defense attorney M. Cristina Gutierrez said she would ask the assigned trial judge, Elsbeth L. Bothe, to disqualify herself. The judge, she said, "demonstrated hostility, bias and the appearance of impropriety with regard to her lack of a professional relationship with me."

Judge Bothe said she would rule on that motion at the appropriate time.

Mrs. McLean, 50, is accused of stealing more than $25,000 by having a fictitious employee called Michele McCloud on her payroll, and of steering a $1 million city lease to a family-owned building. The comptroller, who is on an unpaid leave, has pleaded innocent to the charges.

Mrs. McLean, who rose from political obscurity to the City Council and then to Baltimore's third-highest office, attempted suicide with a near-fatal overdose of prescription pills and alcohol the night of April 14. Her attorneys have said she has a long history of depression.

Lawyers have skirmished for weeks over her mental condition. The key issues in the competency debate are whether she understands the charges against her and can participate in her defense.

Ms. Gutierrez had asked for a three-month delay, arguing that Mrs. McLean remains suicidal. But she would not allow a court psychiatrist to interview the comptroller.

Last week, Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital was ordered to release Mrs. McLean's records to a court psychiatrist. He then issued a report saying the comptroller is competent to stand trial.

Doctors have been unsuccessful in treating Mrs. McLean's severe depression with drugs and are considering a "more radical" treatment that would take five to eight weeks to administer, Ms. Gutierrez said yesterday. The lawyer would not describe the treatment.

But State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said during yesterday's hearing that postponing Mrs. McLean's trial would set a "terrible precedent."

"Every defendant has problems, and the closer we get to the trial date the more problems Mrs. McLean seems to have," he said.

In issuing his ruling, Judge McCurdy said, "I am not satisfied Mrs. McLean's medical condition justifies a postponement."

Ms. Gutierrez said the judge was confusing the competency issue with her contention that the comptroller is unable to stand trial because she needs immediate treatment for a life-threatening mental illness.

When Mrs. McLean's trial will begin remained unclear yesterday.

Ms. Gutierrez said that if the trial is postponed tomorrow, as expected, it should be placed on the "move list" -- a list of cases that are assigned to the first judge whose courtroom opens up when lawyers are ready to proceed. Judge Bothe, however, said yesterday that the case would remain with her through any delays.

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