About a week before jury selection was set to begin, a federal judge substantially delayed the start of the public corruption trial against former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. and his wife, pointing to "irreconcilable conflicts of interest" among the couple's attorneys.
The unexplained departure of the Bromwells' attorneys days before the long-scheduled trial was to start left the schedule of the case in flux. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and the judge all declined to provide details about why the defense lawyers left the case so abruptly.
U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz wrote in his one-page order that the trial will begin in the fall after the couple finds new legal representation.
"The hearing on pending motions will likewise be postponed until after new counsel has entered their appearance on behalf of the Bromwells and have had an opportunity to review the motions and prepare their arguments," Motz wrote.
According to a separate order issued yesterday by Motz, the question of conflict was raised in sealed court papers as early as Dec. 6. In the same set of documents, the Bromwells' attorneys filed a motion to try to exclude the contents of an FBI interview report on the conflict issue.
Motz wrote yesterday that he has no intention of unsealing those documents in the near future.
In a sweeping 80-page indictment in October 2005, federal prosecutors accused Bromwell, 58, of accepting bribes from a local construction company executive in exchange for help of the ex-politician in securing publicly funded contracts.
His wife, Mary Patricia Bromwell, 43, is accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a subcontractor controlled by the same construction company, Poole and Kent, in return for her husband's influence.
The Bromwells have denied the charges. If convicted, each could be sentenced to decades in prison.
Bromwell, the Democrat who represented Baltimore County in the General Assembly for 23 years, was originally represented by attorneys Robert Schulman and Joshua Treem of the Baltimore law firm of Schulman, Treem Kaminkow, Gilden & Ravenell. His wife, Mary Patricia, had her own attorney, Gerard P. Martin of Rosenberg, Martin Greenberg, also a Baltimore firm.
Then, without public notice or explanation, Schulman dropped out of the case. About the same time, Treem and Martin switched clients.
None of the attorneys commented yesterday on the reason behind the switch or the reasons for leaving the case.
"We are doing our best to make sure that Tom and Mary Pat get what they deserve - a first-class team of lawyers to guide them through this ordeal," Gerald Martin, who last represented the former senator, said in an e-mail yesterday.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said he was disappointed by the news because his prosecutors were ready to proceed to trial.
Abraham A. Dash, a professor who teaches criminal procedure at the University of Maryland School of Law, said there were many reasons why a federal judge would allow defense attorneys to leave a case on the eve of trial.
But Dash also said that judges do everything in their power to keep defense attorney in the case. "It's got to be extraordinary circumstances," Dash said. "He's not going to let these lawyers leave for just any reason."
The trial had already been delayed twice before because of a conflict in the judge's schedule and a death in the family of one of the attorneys
Seven defendants, including W. David Stoffregen, the former president of Poole and Kent, have already pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against the Bromwells.
The trial is expected to last at least two months.
In a separate development yesterday, Motz outlined which secret documents in the case he intended to unseal on Tuesday. Lawyers for The Sun asked Motz last week to unseal all the documents.
Among the documents expected to be released is a motion filed by federal prosecutors about secret tapes made of Bromwell by informants.
The order issued by Motz yesterday raises new issues in the case.
Defense attorneys filed a sealed motion Feb. 26 asking the judge to dismiss the indictment against the Bromwells because of "prosecutorial misconduct."
It was unclear yesterday the true nature of the motion or how the judge ruled.
While he declined to describe the substance of the still-sealed document, Rosenstein said last night that "when documents are unsealed, it will become crystal clear that there was no misconduct by prosecutors."