Dixon's lawyers seek dismissal

They cite 'multiplicity of mistakes, misconceptions' in perjury charges

April 03, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Lawyers for Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon are seeking to dismiss criminal charges against her, calling a lengthy investigation into her activities a "misguided mission" by a state prosecutor that ended with a "hopelessly confused" 12-count indictment, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Dixon's legal argument relies in part on a supporting affidavit prepared late last month by City Solicitor George A. Nilson, a public employee who serves at the mayor's pleasure.

In a sharply written 49-page memorandum, the mayor's defense attorneys, Arnold M. Weiner and Dale P. Kelberman, call out State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh for filing perjury charges against her that suffer from "a multiplicity of mistakes and misconceptions."

Rohrbaugh declined to comment, as did Dixon's lawyers.

Baltimore's mayor has been accused of failing to disclose furs, designer clothes and other gifts from developers on her ethics forms, stealing gift cards intended for needy families and misuse of office. City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and developer Ronald H. Lipscomb were charged with bribery in a separate case that stemmed from the same investigation into City Hall spending. All say they are innocent.

Defense lawyers argue that Dixon's votes on tax breaks cannot be introduced as evidence because they are considered constitutionally protected acts, invoking state and federal speech and debate clauses.

The state prosecutor's office has argued in a separate case that those clauses apply only to state and federal officials, not to city elected leaders.

The bulk of filing - which includes five pages of case law citations and portions of previously secret grand jury testimony - focuses on arguments to dismiss the four perjury charges. The lawyers say Dixon was not required to disclose gifts she received from Lipscomb and Patrick Turner, identified as Developer A and Developer B in the indictment, because their work with the city does not fall within the technical definition contained in the ethics code to trigger disclosure. Neither is charged with wrongdoing in the Dixon case.

Dixon's lawyers pointed to a recent memo from Nilson directing all city agencies to compile for the first time a list of companies that would trigger such disclosure.

Nilson also provided an affidavit that the mayor's lawyers call a "straightforward exposition" that backs up their claims that gifts from the two developers did not need to be reported.

Dixon picked Nilson, a Yale-trained attorney, to head the city's law department after she became mayor in January 2007.

Defense attorneys also quibbled with the three theft charges, saying that prosecutors sometimes allege developers gave Dixon gift cards that she failed to report on her ethics form and other times accuse the mayor of stealing those same gift cards. "No rational grand jury could find, on the basis of evidence presented, that a single transaction ... is both a gift to the recipient and a theft by the recipient," according to the legal papers.

The indictment alleges that the developers gave Dixon hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards at Best Buy, Target and Old Navy that she used to buy clothing and electronics for herself. The cards were not listed on her ethics forms as gifts.

The state prosecutor's office must file a response to the motion by April 14, and oral arguments are scheduled for April 23.

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