Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel said yesterday it is "quite possible" that he will turn over all of the duties of his office to Lt. Gov. Blair Lee III during Mandel's retrial on political corruption charges, which begins today in Baltimore.
"It would be only fair to myself and everyone else that I do this" if the court schedule is too heavy, Mandel said in a discussion with reporters who had been invited to the Governor's Mansion on short notice.
Although Mandel's lawyer filed a motion yesterday requesting that court sessions be limited to four days a week, five hours a day, to preserve his health, the governor said he would still have "very little" time to govern the state.
"The trial," Mandel said, "is the most important thing in my life, other than my health, and I want to stay alive."
Mandel's informal chat with reporters was his first meeting with the press since he was hospitalized April 5 with what his doctors then described as possibly a "small stroke," from which he has been recovering slowly.
In effect, he acknowledged yesterday what many of his friends have been saying privately for weeks: that he probably cannot stand trial and govern at the same time.
Under Maryland's Constitution Mandel is empowered to appoint Lee acting governor for whatever time period that he sees fit.
Speaking in a voice somewhat softer than usual and without the pipe that has become his trademark, Mandel exphasized that he intends to carry out instructions from his doctors, even if it means relinquishing the control of government he has clung to so tenaciously during th his legal problems and his [WORD ILLEGIBLE].
The trial will begin today [WORD ILLEGIBLE] same federal courthouse [WORD ILLEGIBLE] the first attempt to try Mandel and four condefendants ended in a mistrial last December after jurors were exposed to news reports about attempts to tamper with other jurors. The mistrial occurred, in part, because U.S. District Court Judge John H. Pratt was unwilling during most of the trial to sequester the jurors.
Defense attorneys for Mandel and two of the codefendants - W. Dale Hess and Harry W. Rodgers III - filed motions yesterday asking that the jury again not be sequestered. That request was immediately opposed by chief prosecutor Barnet D. Skolnik.
The first trial on bribery, racketeering and mail fraud charges ended after 2 1/2 months of explosive testimony in which it was alleged that Mandel received expensive gifts - clothes, jewelry, vacations - from his codefendants in exchange for Mandel's using his office to obtain government benefits for them.
Little new information is expected during the prosecution presentation, which took 11 weeks the first time around. But there will be a new codefendant, Irvin Kovens, and a new judge, Robert Love Taylor, who was brought in from Tennessee to handle the case.
"Kovens, Mandel's closest friend and longtime campaign fund raiser, was severed from the first trial because of a heart ailment.
The other defendants are Tidewater Insurance company owners Hess, Harry Rodgers and his brother William A. Rodgers, and Laurel attorney Ernest N. Cory Jr., who prosecutors alleged helped cover up the secret ownership of Marlboro Race Track by the others.
The context is also different. Renewed charges of impropriety in the Mandel administration were made last week when the state secretary of transportation, Harry R. Hughes, resigned his post in Mandel's cabinet. Hughes charged that the process of awarding contracts for Baltimore's billion-dollar subway construction had been "tainted" and "tampered with" by a politically influential contractor.
In Annapolis, a former top Mandel aide, Alford R. (Skip) Carey, is on trial on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for portable classroom construction contracts. Carey has already served a prison term after pleading guilty in January, 1976, to embezzling state funds.
Also, wide-open Democractic primary campaign to determine who replaces Mandel is now under way, and results of the trial are expected to have a major impact on that race.
In his meeting with reporters yesterday, Mandel described himself as "feeling better . . . I'm coming along." But he said he can only work about 90 minutes at a time before he begins to tire.
Longer work sessions bring exhaustion, he said, noting that before getting sick he prided himself on long work days and little sleep. He said he still gets the headaches that sent him to the hospital in the first place and that his doctors have estimated that he still has a "30 per cent weakness."
The governor said he still takes medication daily, and is scheduled for another examination in a month.
Last Friday a team of specialists at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, headed by neurosurgeon Dr. George Udverhelyi, examined the governor for nine hours. Afterward they announced that he has progressed sufficiently to permit him to attend court on a limited schedule.
The doctors, in a public statement, recommended a four-day week, and yesterday Mandel expanded that to say the doctors had suggested a maximum five-hour court day. His lawyer proposed holding court from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. with a two-hour lunch break.
During the first trial Judge Pratt presided from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or later, with a 75-minute lunch break.
With Lee watching from the deck of the plant-bedecked garden room, Mandel said yesterday that "most of the day-to-day work already has been turned over to the lieutenant governor," including presiding at meetings of the Board of Public Works and sessions with agency heads.
"Except for a few constitutional duties," Mandel said, he has assigned responsibilities of his office to Lee and various members of the governor's staff. Depending on the court schedule, Mandel said, he may "quite possibly" be turning over even those remaining duties to Lee.
He said he had not discussed that action with his doctors, however, since "that is not a medical decision."
Of the trial, Mandel said, "I just want to get it over with." But "I'm not going to take any risks" with his health, he said.
"While he said he plans to follow his physicians' orders, the governor also commented, "I don't make the rules," and said that if Judge Taylor rejects his motion for a reduced trial schedule, he will accept it.
Mandel said that since his release from the hospital on April 27 he has spent "most of my time right here" in the lower-level room that his wife, Jeanne, and aides have fixed as an office, lounge and daytime living quarters. He has been permitted to climb the stairs to the second-story living quarters only once a day.
The bright, sunny room is filled with white wicker furniture and hanging baskets of plants and flowers. His pipe and glasses were on a table next to him, with a Princess telephone. In once corner was a three-foot-high getwell card, containing dozens of signatures obtained at something called the Victory Spring Ball.
The governor wore tan slacks, a polka-dot sport shirt, suede shoes and a tie. He was tan, apparently from a weekend trip to Ocean City and several excursions aboard the stateowned yacht, the Maryland Lady, and he may have gained a few pounds since starting his recuperation.
Mandel and his five friends and codefendants - Tidewater Insurance executives Hess, Harry Rogers and William A. Rodgers, furniture executive Kovens and Laurel attorney Ernest N. Cory Jr. - are on trial on 23 counts of mail fraud and racketeering.
These charges cover what prosecutiors called a flow of favors to Mandel, some $200,000 worth of jewelry, real estate and vacations, in exchange for Mandel's actions as chief executive to help his friend's businesses, especially the Malboro Race Track.
At the aborted trial the defense argued that the gifts were a matter between friends - old friends, dating back to boyhood in one instnce. The defense also argued that Mandel did not knowingly influence the passage of laws that favored his friends' enterprises.
Although the evidence will be essentially the same as presented at the last trial, there are notable changes in this trial. Kovens was excused from the last trial because of a heart ailment but he was judged in good enough health to stand with his codefendants today.
The man who will rule on these motions is a new judge on the case, a 77-year-old judge who has already presided over the corruption trial of former Illinois governor Otto Kerner.
Taylor has a reputation as a nonsense, short-tempered judge who believes justice is best served with a speedy trial.
His ruling on the question of sequestering the jury will refuel the controversy that closed in on Pratt with the mistrial. An immigrant furniture salesman and a self-described New Jersey "con man" were both convicted and sentenced to at least two years in federal prisons for seperate attempts to influence the jury which was not sequestered.
Jurors in the last trial, the most highly publicized criminal trial in Maryland's history, were free to return home each evening until news of the first jury-tampering attempt was reported in the media.
That was the attempt by Walter Weikers, a 67-year-old Baltimore furniture salesman to give $10,000 to juror Oscar Sislen, a relative by marriage, to make sure that Mandel was never convicted of the corruption charges.
Federal prosecutors still believe that Weikers was acting for someone else but no such evidence was presented in the March trial that led to Weikers' conviction and two-year prison sentence.
The attempt that led to the conviction of the New Jersey man was more circumspect and has left even greater questions. Charles Edward Neiswender, 52, attempted to solicit a $20,000 bribe from Mandel's chief defense attorney, Arnold Welner.
Neiswender had led Weiner to believe that the money would go to a Mandel juror who was willing to throw the case for a price. This extraordinary ploy was done at the instructions of "a stranger" who Neiswender said had paid his $5,000 to "throw a snag in the trial," according to a court affidavit he gave prosecutors.
Prosecutors apparently failed to find the instigator of these attempts whom they have called "the shart."
The first step in the new jury's selection begins this morning when Judge Taylor is expected to rule on the question of sequestering. Although the prsecution strategy may be altered, the final panel of 12 jury members can look forward to vivid testimony.
When the prosecution presents the first half of its case to prove that Mandel did receive expensive favors, the panel will listen to the saga of an airport rendezvous when a mysterious "man in green" allegedly handed a New York jeweler a brown paper bag stuffed with $3.316 to pay for a diamond ring for the governor's son.
In the crusial second half of its case, the prosecution will turn to Mandell's alleged attempts to help those friends who presented him with these gifts.