Stokes lawyer asks to help prosecute Blackwell case

But state's attorney says role against accused priest would pose ethical conflict

April 29, 2003|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Warren A. Brown, Warren A. Brown, the loquacious litigator and City Council hopeful, grabbed air time on 60 Minutes and space in major American newspapers last year in his successful defense of Dontee D. Stokes, the Baltimore man who shot a priest Stokes said had molested him as a teen-ager.

Yesterday, Brown requested a temporary move to the other side of the courtroom. In a hyperbolic letter to the city state's attorney's office, Brown asked to help bring sex abuse charges against Maurice J. Blackwell, the priest shot by Stokes in May.

While the state's attorney's office and legal scholars deem the move a clear conflict of interest, Brown advocates the unusual legal maneuver on simple grounds: "Poetic justice."

"My request is by no means an indictment of your office or its ability to prosecute high-profile cases," Brown wrote in a hand-delivered letter to State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy. "It is more accurately an appropriate means of poetic justice. Your office obviously employs a number of more than qualified attorneys. However, no attorney has the depth of understanding nor the panoramic insight relative to this case that I do."

The state's attorney's office is close to indicting Blackwell, 57, on charges that he sexually abused Stokes in 1993, according to law enforcement officials. Blackwell, through his lawyer, has denied these claims.

Stokes admitted to shooting Blackwell three times on a West Baltimore street last spring after Blackwell refused to apologize for the alleged abuse.

Stokes is serving eight months of home detention for the minor handgun charges on which he was convicted in connection with the shooting. He was acquitted in December of first-degree attempted murder and other serious charges.

During the trial, Brown demonized Blackwell, who refused to testify, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

Brown publicly criticized the state's attorney's office last summer for not prosecuting Blackwell, once standing on the steps of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse with a bullhorn, yelling at prosecutors that they were "cowardly" for not bringing charges against the priest.

Because he has dedicated much of his time and energy in the past year to the Stokes case, Brown said he is more familiar with the case than any other lawyer.

"I feel especially qualified to point out with particular particularity the horrid and horrible treatment that Dontee Stokes received at the hands of Maurice Blackwell," reads his letter. "For these reasons, I would consider it an honor and a privilege if, for the limited purpose of prosecuting Maurice Blackwell, I am sworn in once again as an assistant state's attorney for Baltimore City."

But a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office said yesterday that the chances of Brown returning to his old job for this case -- he was an assistant state's attorney for three years during the early 1980s -- are fairly slim.

"It is obvious this matter would bring a potential conflict of interest and fail any reasonable test to offer an unbiased, objective and professional prosecution in accordance of the standards of professional conduct," said Margaret T. Burns, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office. "It crosses the line of what would be ethical."

Abraham A. Dash, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, said the fact that Brown "would love to prosecute the case" is not the issue.

"I don't understand the legal justification of picking someone from the private defense bar to handle the case," Dash said. "It raises questions because of the appearance of impropriety or a vendetta."

Brown, however, said it is a conflict of interest for the state's attorney's office to prosecute Blackwell because the priest was a victim in the Stokes case, which was handled by that office.

"They're the ones who snuggled with him and sat down and talked with him," Brown said. "They're the ones who ought to get out of it. You need to get somebody else in there. Why not Warren Brown?"

Burns said she sees no conflict in the state's attorney's office prosecuting Blackwell, because Baltimore prosecutors often bring criminal charges against defendants who were once witnesses in other cases.

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