Suspended Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel agreed today to the temporary suspension of his lawyer's license until his appeal of his August conviction for mail fraud and racketeering is decided.
In a brief filed by his attorney with the Maryland Court of Appeals, Mandel said he would not contest the suspension order requested earlier by the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland. The commission asked the court last month to suspend Mandel's license on the grounds that he had committed crimes of "moral turpitude."
By agreeing to the suspension. Mandel postponed a court decision on the moral turpitude issue that, if he loses his appeal, will determine whether he practices law again.
In Webster's dictionary, turpitude is defined a "Inherent baseness. . . depravity." The high court of Maryland has yet to decide if all mail fraud crimes are "inherently base."
Mandel's attorney Arnold M. Weiner argued that while the suspended governor has "no intention of practicing law until the appeal . . . has been decided," it does not mean Mandel has conceded that his mail fraud convictions are crimes of "moral turpitude."
On the contrary, Weiner claimed that the offenses of which Mandel was convicted did not involve moral turpitude because, among other reasons, bribery was not proved.
Mandel was convicted of engineering a scheme whereby he received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts so that he, in turn, would manipulate his governorship to enrich his friends' racetrack.
The federal prosecutors used mail fraud statutes to construct the case, laws that do not require proof of bribery for conviction.
When Mandel was sentenced to four years in prison last September he was automatically suspended from the governorship and Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III took over the job. If he loses his appeal. Mandel will forfeit any right to resume governing the state and he faces disbarment and imprisonment.
Recently, Mandel has claimed he is penniless and forced to live off his wife Jeanne's savings. Since he won entry to the Maryland Bar in 1942 Mandel has earned his living either as a public servant or a lawyer - two fields from which he is now suspended.
If the high court of Maryland is forced to rule on Mandel's disbarment, only one of its seven sitting judges will participate in making the decision.
During Mandel's term in office - from 1969 until 1977 - he appointed five of the judges to the Court of Appeals including Chief Judge Robert C. Murphy. All five have disqualified themselves from hearing the case and replacement judges have been named from other courts in the state. One judge has retired and Lee has yet to name a successor.
Judge John C. Eldridge of the Court of Appeals was one of the major defense witnesses for the governor during his trial.
Associate Judge Marvin H. Smith is the only judge who has not disqualified himself.
If the case does come to Smith and the replacements, it should determine the state's stand on mail fraud.
Earlier this year, a Maryland lawyer was disbarred by the court but Chief Judge Robery C. Murphy wrote that "we need not decide in this case whether a conviction for mail fraud, in any and all circumstances, will always involve moral turpitude."
Murphy decided that "it is enough that we determine in this case, from a review of the allegations of the indictment, charge to the jury, and the jury's verdict that the crimes . . . plainly involved moral turpitude."
The indictment against Mandel and his five codefendants is considered a broad application of federal mail fraud statues by federal prosecutors to cover a local political corruption case.
In his brief, Weiner contends that because the prosecutors expanded the scope of this law, the court's decision on moral turpitude should be made on the merits of the Mandel indictment alone, rather than a decision on the issue in general.