Will new accusations hurt Baltimore mayor?
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Revelations that a third Baltimore developer might have donated gift cards to Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon are more likely to cause political damage than legal harm, observers said.
On Thursday, Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney will consider arguments by Dixon's attorneys to keep developer Glenn Charlow from testifying that he bought Target gift cards and gave them to the mayor, believing they would be used for activities at her church.
Dixon is charged with taking gift cards that she solicited on behalf of the city's poor from two other developers -- Patrick Turner and former boyfriend Ronald H. Lipscomb -- and spending about 60 of them on herself, her family and her friends. The Charlow allegations, emerging in a motion filed by her attorneys Tuesday, had not been previously disclosed and are arising as her trial begins this week.
"That definitely ups the ante," said Herb Smith, a political science professor at McDaniel College. "It broadens the offense. It creates an atmosphere of 'What is next?' "
David Gray, a University of Maryland Law School professor, called the new allegations a "side show" that state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh could be using to prejudice the jury.
After reviewing a defense motion to suppress the evidence, Gray said the Charlow revelations are being introduced "too late in the game" and predicted that Sweeney would not allow a jury to hear them.
Dixon has repeatedly proclaimed her innocence. Appearing at a Veterans Day event Wednesday, she declined to answer questions about the gift cards. "You better respect me, and I'm not going to answer any questions," she said.
The new allegations are not criminal charges but could be offered as evidence to show a pattern of behavior, Gray said.
The new revelations "can't help her," said Don Norris, professor and chairman of the public policy department at University of Maryland Baltimore County, but they might not damage her career. "My view is that none of this matters politically," Norris said. "If she walks out of these two trials acquitted, then she has a much stronger political hand in the city than she did before."