Charges Add Time, Costs In Dixon Case

Expense Of Mayor's Defense Likely To Rise

Who Will Pay Remains Unknown

July 31, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,

The new criminal indictments hand- ed up Wednesday against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon guarantee one thing: The legal questions that have been hanging over the mayor for the past three years will not be settled by September, when a jury trial on the original charges was scheduled.

A longer legal proceeding could also vastly increase the cost of the mayor's defense, and questions about whether Dixon or the taxpayers will pay for her top-flight lawyers remain unanswered.

The nine new charges, which include perjury for allegedly failing to report gifts on city ethics forms and theft for allegedly stealing gift cards intended for needy families, will trigger a new round of discovery, new motions to dismiss and likely new legal squabbles between the mayor's attorneys and the state prosecutor's office.

Attorneys who have handled white-collar criminal cases estimated that the new charges could delay the case by six months to a year and significantly drive up legal costs.

"That is not a signal for a quick resolution," said Andrew C. White, a former federal prosecutor who is a defense attorney.

More time means more money.

"Does it cost a fortune in a major white-collar criminal case? The answer is yes," said Paul Mark Sandler, a defense attorney who represented one of Hillary Clinton's chief campaign fundraisers after he was charged with filing false reports with the Federal Election Commission. "The nature of pretrial work is time-consuming."

Dixon, who makes $151,700 a year, has repeatedly declined to answer questions posed by The Baltimore Sun about how she plans to pay for her legal defense, which some Baltimore attorneys have estimated would run into six figures.

Her lawyers, Arnold M. Weiner, who has his own firm, and Dale P. Kelberman, a partner at Miles & Stockbridge, are considered by their peers among the best - and most highly paid - in the city. Neither has answered repeated questions about his payment arrangements with Dixon.

Maryland lawyers are ethically barred from working on contingency for criminal cases, or accepting payment only on the condition that their client is cleared of charges. They can reduce their fees if they choose.

If Dixon is cleared of the charges, the state code allows her to be reimbursed by taxpayers for "reasonable legal fees." The state's Board of Public Works would have to approve such an expenditure.

In January, City Solicitor George Nilson said he did some research to develop a policy for the city to reimburse such costs, but he halted his work in January after a public outcry ensued.

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