Dixon To Go On Trial Nov. 9

Mayor To Plead Not Guilty

Original Indictment Dropped After Grand Jury Hands Up 2 New Ones

August 06, 2009|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Mayor Sheila Dixon will go to trial Nov. 9 on charges of theft and perjury, and plans to enter a not-guilty plea, according to her lawyers.

State prosecutors and defense attorneys for Dixon hammered out a new schedule for her case after a Baltimore grand jury handed up two new indictments against the mayor last week.

At a court hearing Wednesday morning, prosecutors dropped the original indictment against Dixon, which like the new case stems from allegations that she stole gift cards intended for the needy and failed to report gifts she received on city ethics forms.

Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney set Dixon's criminal trial date two months later than the date she had been scheduled to face the original charges.

One of Dixon's defense attorneys, Dale P. Kelberman, said at the hearing that the mayor would plead not guilty at a later date. He also indicated that Dixon would file a waiver requesting that she not be required to appear in court at the pre-trial hearings.

It will be up to the defense to ask the court to either consolidate the two new indictments in a single trial or hold two separate trials. Sweeney said that decision would be made "down the road."

In a setback to the defense, though, Sweeney ruled against a motion filed by Dixon's lawyers accusing state prosecutors of misusing the grand jury by subpoenaing current and former city employees to testify about theft charges in July, after the original indictment already had been handed up. Dixon had charged that State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh was using the grand jury to "gather additional evidence of the crimes already charged" and for trial preparation. Sweeney declared the motion moot because it was filed in connection with a case that has been dropped.

Kelberman said the mayor's defense team would likely resurrect the objection. "We don't think the state should be able to argue out of a possible abuse of the grand jury by dismissing the indictment," Kelberman said.

Defense attorneys objected to the subpoenas, and shortly thereafter, prosecutors withdrew them. In their memo responding to the defense's objections, the state prosecutors said it would be "inappropriate" for them to give specific reasons in a public forum for issuing the subpoenas.

The same memo noted that since Dixon originally was indicted in January, they have secured cooperation from the mayor's former boyfriend, developer Ronald H. Lipscomb. His testimony could mean "further investigations" would be "appropriate," according to prosecutors.

Dixon faces seven counts related to stealing gift cards from the needy and two counts of perjuring herself by failing to report lavish gifts from Lipscomb on the ethics forms that city officials are required to complete.

The earlier indictment had charged Dixon with 12 offenses similar to those contained in the current case. But five of those charges, relating to perjury accusations, were dismissed in May because they relied in part on evidence of Dixon's votes - acts that Sweeney ruled were protected by the mayor's legislative immunity.

Under the schedule agreed upon Wednesday, the defense will have a month to review transcripts of any recent grand jury and Lipscomb's new testimony before they file their motion to dismiss by Sept. 8. The hearing for oral arguments on motions to dismiss are scheduled for Sept. 30.

"They have 30 days to come up with all sorts of creative motions," Rohrbaugh said.

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