Week 2

The Mayor On Trial

What To Watch For In The Theft Trial Of Mayor Sheila Dixon

November 16, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey | Julie Bykowicz and Annie Linskey,Julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com and Annie Linskey

How will Lipscomb hold up?

Ronald H. Lipscomb is perhaps the most important figure in the trial, other than Dixon herself. Her former boyfriend and a pivotal figure for both the defense and the prosecution, Lipscomb is participating in the case after pleading guilty to exceeding campaign finance limits in a separate case and agreeing to cooperate with state prosecutors. He is expected to say the mayor solicited gift cards for charity, as prosecutors try to prove she stole money by using the gift cards herself. Dixon attorney Arnold M. Weiner spent much of his opening statement disparaging Lipscomb's character and raised questions about his business, Doracon Contracting. How will he hold up under tough questioning by defense attorneys? Whose side will the jury take in the he-said, she-said contest?

Who will show up in the courtroom?

Some of the most prominent names in Baltimore could be heading into the courtroom this week and next, some as character witnesses for the Democratic mayor. They include Rep. Elijah Cummings; the Rev. Frank Reid III, pastor of Bethel AME, the mayor's church; Kirby Fowler, head of the Downtown Partnership; and John Paterakis Sr., the baker and developer who pleaded guilty over the summer to exceeding campaign limits in a separate City Hall corruption case. Their names were among 72 on a list given to prospective jurors as people who might be called as witnesses. One of the biggest names, Cummings, initially acknowledged that he was a potential witness, then said later that he was not scheduled to testify.

Was splitting the cases wise?

Prosecutors charged Dixon in two separate indictments, which enabled her defense attorneys to sever the trials. This trial is on charges that she stole gift cards. A second trial, scheduled for March, will be on charges that she failed to report on ethics forms gifts from Lipscomb, a developer and her former boyfriend, who needed City Hall approval for some of his projects to move forward. In the first trial, she is contending that the Lipscomb gift cards were personal gifts to her. But they weren't reported on her ethics form. If the cases had been tried together, she might not have been able to make the same argument.

With City Hall on trial, will Dixon take the stand?

After the state rests its case, the mayor herself might take the stand. But before that happens, the jury - and the public - will see some of the unseemly aspects of how City Hall operates, with prosecutors saying the "cozy relations" between developers and officials border on corruption. Defense attorneys are likely to say that municipal records are poorly kept. If the mayor testifies, she will have to keep a hold on her temper, which can flare when she is barraged with questions. Just last week, she snapped at a press aide and demanded that reporters back off.

What will Howard Dixon say?

The mayor's longtime driver is a former city police officer who bluntly called Dixon a "shopaholic" during grand jury testimony. He's not related to the mayor but has been in some difficult-to-comprehend positions with her. Asking no questions, he accepted $4,000 in cash from Dixon and used it to pay her credit card bill. Prosecutors say he ferried gift cards from developers to Dixon.

A third batch of cards

Prosecutors dropped a bombshell before the trial opened, when they told defense attorneys they had unearthed new documents that would support the testimony of a third developer previously unconnected to the corruption case. It wasn't just Lipscomb and another developer, Patrick Turner, who gave gift cards to the mayor, prosecutors said. Glenn Charlow handed over a bunch as well - and the mayor, the prosecutors added, said she wanted them for her church. Dixon's lawyers cried foul, and the judge refused to allow Charlow to testify or be mentioned during the initial phase of the trial. But the judge hasn't decided yet if Charlow can be called as a rebuttal witness.

The mayor's argument

Now we know Dixon's defense: It wasn't theft or confusion that prompted her to use the gift cards in question. For months, Dixon's lawyers hinted that the mayor's defense would be that she inadvertently spent the cards -- mixing them up with others meant for her. So it was jolting when Arnold Weiner delivered an opening statement that said something different. There was no confusion, he said, and the mayor wouldn't challenge prosecution claims that she bought an Xbox, Old Navy clothing or a camcorder. She spent the cards readily - because they were meant as gifts for her. Prosecutors will have to convince the jury that they were meant, instead, for charity.

The jury consultant

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