It's Ok - He's Not Really A Person

April 26, 2009|By LAURA VOZZELLA

Just as the Monica Lewinsky affair turned on the meaning of the word is, the case against Mayor Sheila Dixon could come down to the definition of person.

The city's ethics code requires public servants to disclose gifts from any person doing business with or regulated by the city.

Prosecutors say Dixon accepted thousands of dollars in cash, furs, travel and other gifts from developer Ron Lipscomb, who won big city tax breaks from a board she chaired. She disclosed none of it.


Not really, City Solicitor George Nilson said in a written affidavit that highlighted his three degrees from Yale, which, as it happens, also granted a law degree to Parser-In-Chief Bill Clinton. Dixon's lawyers presented the statement in court the other day as they argued to have the case dismissed.

"When the party to the transaction with the City is a business entity ... the person doing business with the City is the entity that is the party to the transaction," Nilson wrote. "The entity's parents, subsidiaries, affiliates, owners, operators or subcontractors are not persons doing business with the City."

Same goes, he said, for a "person" regulated by the city.

By that reasoning, doesn't that mean the Health Department employee who goes out to inspect a pizza parlor is allowed to take free pies from the owner?

"You can make an argument, I suppose, in that situation that the owner and the entity are regulated by the city," Nilson told me in phone interview Friday. "And you also might say it really is the pizza parlor that's providing the free pizza. The owner might say, 'Have a pizza on the house.' "

Prosecutors allege that in many cases, including a $2,000 gift certificate for a fur coat and a $3,200 weekend at New York's Trump International, Lipscomb's Doracon picked up the tab. Nilson volunteered as much.

"I do have some recollection that at least one of the transactions that involved a gift way back whenever involved ... a corporate account," Nilson said.

But he still maintained that "the gift was a gift of the individual and not the corporation."

It almost goes without saying then, under that interpretation, that it's OK if Lipscomb wooed Dixon on his personal credit card, even as his various companies sought tax breaks from the city. As long as he didn't personally sign any contracts with the city, Nilson said, it's all good.

"If he personally bought her flowers or gifts or shoes or whatever and he doesn't have, himself, a contractual relationship with the city that matches up in time to that gift, some may think that the ethics law is imperfect, but I don't think the ethics law requires that disclosure," he said.

In presenting Nilson's affidavit in court, Dixon attorney Arnold Weiner stated that the solicitor is a public servant who is paid to represent the city of Baltimore, not to please a criminal defendant.

But in this case, retired Howard County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney noted, it's the criminal defendant "who appoints him, under whose pleasure he serves."

Blood's no bother

Richard Sher, who left WJZ last year after 33 years of reporting and anchoring, has found a way to stay close to the action.

He volunteers one day a week at Maryland Shock Trauma.

Dressed in pink scrubs, Sher stocks trauma bays with linens, gloves and other equipment, takes blood samples to the lab and escorts patients here and there. He even puts clean sheets on the beds.

He's been at it for about three months and has tried to keep a low profile, but one of my spies ratted him out.

"A lot of people know me from TV," he said. "They can't imagine what I'm doing here."

He said the blood doesn't get to him, since he saw plenty of it as a reporter.

"It's just a great place, it really is," Sher said. "I'm telling you, you are so well cared for and so quickly cared for."

In addition to volunteering, Sher has started a video production and communications firm. He's created some infomercials for Citizens Lending Group in Towson, whose president just happens to be his son, Greg.

What is a contestant?

Scott Menke is about to graduate from the Johns Hopkins University with a degree in applied mathematics, and it's not yet clear how he'll apply that degree.

"Originally, I wanted to do something finance-y," he said. "It's not such a great area now."

But Menke, 21, has already put his trivia skills to work. He beat out thousands to win a spot on the Jeopardy! College Championship.

Only 15 students from around the country were selected. He thinks some interesting personal facts - he once played violin at Carnegie Hall as part of a New Jersey youth orchestra, and his hometown of Flemington, N.J., played host to the Lindbergh kidnapping trial - helped him make the cut.

He flew to Los Angeles earlier this month to tape the show. He's not allowed to say how he did. He'll be on the air May 5 when the championship begins and will show up again the next week if he advanced.

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