Lawyers for former Old Court Savings & Loan president Jeffrey Levitt argued today that the press, Gov. Harry Hughes and Attorney General Stephen H. Sachs have painted their client as "public enemy number one," generating so much negative publicity about him that Levitt will be unable to get a fair trial here in June.
The lawyers made the argument in motions filed today in Baltimore City Circuit Court seeking to move Levitt's trial on theft charges from Baltimore or to delay it until "passions have an opportunity to cool."
Citing numerous media reports and statements by Sachs and Hughes, the court papers said the public has been led to believe that Levitt created the crisis in the state's savings and loan industry, which has "touched the raw nerve" of "every taxpayer and potential juror in the state."
In addition, the court papers said, "the crisis has created a hostile environment for the defendant, one which is constantly inflamed by painting him as a modern day Louis . . . XVI (with his wife as Marie Antoinette) and contrasting them with those who have been devastated by the crisis."
Levitt's lawyers charged that Sachs "has taken the lead in convicting the defendant in the press," citing the attorney general's statement in January that Levitt had used Old Court as "his private trough . . . a trough that was continuously replenished with other people's money."
"Not to be outdone," said the court papers, "the governor got into the act and blamed the crisis on the 'unbounding greed' of several thrift executives."
Neither Hughes nor Sachs was available today for comment on the motions. There was no indication when the court might rule on the lawyers' requests.
Levitt's lawyers are known to be concerned that their client, the only Old Court official to be indicted, has become a lone public symbol of greed in the thrift industry. They fear that as the first savings and loan official to go on trial, he will will be in for unduly harsh treatment.
Levitt was charged Jan. 3 with theft and misappropriation of $14.6 million of depositors' funds. He is in the state prison at Jessup, serving an 18-month sentence for criminal contempt of court.
Sources close to the Old Court case said several former Levitt associates may face indictment in the coming weeks. They include Walter Otstot, an Ocean City developer who had an interest in several ventures with Old Court.
Former Old Court directors Allen Feinberg and Dennis E. Guidice have been involved in plea negotiations with state prosecutors, sources said, but agreements currently appear unlikely because prosecutors are demanding guilty pleas to charges that could bring prison terms of 25 to 35 years.
Otstot's lawyer, Gerard Martin, said his client was offered a plea arrangement that could have brought 30 years in prison. "I've never seen a situation in which the demands in a criminal case are so high," said Martin. "We're not making any deals."
Levitt's lawyers also asked today for a dismissal of the indictment against him on the basis that Sachs improperly used the wide-ranging powers of the federal grand jury system to advance the state's prosecution of Levitt.