On Other Side of Courtroom, Still High Profile

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 19, 2008

For defense attorneys hired by the powerful and politically connected, the job can be about more than keeping the client out of prison.

It's often about keeping them out of the news, away from the courthouse and, if possible, still in office.

In Maryland, one of the most sought-after practitioners of this delicate craft is Dale P. Kelberman. As the chief white-collar crime prosecutor for the U.S. attorney's office, he was known for his meticulous, methodical pursuit of wrongdoing.

Now he's defending two of the state's most powerful politicians, both entangled in high-profile probes of possible corruption. State Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) is under investigation by the FBI in connection with his work on behalf of Shoppers Food & Pharmacy and its corporate parent. Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon (D) is under investigation by the Maryland state prosecutor's office, which is examining her relationship to a Baltimore developer she was dating while she was president of the City Council. Neither Currie nor Dixon has been charged.

In the clubby world of Maryland prosecutors and ex-prosecutors, it's still surprising to some that Kelberman is now working on the other side of the courtroom.

Stephen H. Sachs, who as state attorney general hired Kelberman in 1979 to work on fraud and corruption cases, recalled not only his skill as a prosecutor but also how much he seemed to enjoy it. "He liked putting bad guys in jail," Sachs said.

Now, as a partner at the Baltimore firm of Miles & Stockbridge, Kelberman's job is keeping people as far away from jail as possible. After five years as a defense attorney, Kelberman, 59, said he isn't pining for his old job.

"No," he says in an interview, chuckling, "I don't think I could ever go back to doing that."

Sitting in a conference room 13 floors above Baltimore's Light Street, Kelberman speaks like someone who knows far more than he can ever say. Prosecuting prominent people taught Kelberman the importance of discretion. Defending them has allowed him to perfect it.

Pauses punctuate many answers. Sometimes, he doesn't give answers at all, just apologies. "I don't think I want to talk about that," he says when asked to describe what he, as a defense lawyer, does when a client comes under investigation. "I'm sorry."

Kelberman's path to this point began at the Baltimore state's attorney's office, which he joined after graduating from the University of Baltimore's law school in 1975. He intended to become a defense lawyer and saw the prosecutor job as a résumé-builder.

"I thought I would get a lot of trial experience quickly, and I did," he recalls. "Things just developed from there and kept me as a prosecutor longer than I anticipated."

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