The ups and downs of a four-year legal odyssey indictment, mistrial, conviction, victory on appeal and now conviction again -- have finally convinced Marvin Mandel that life is no longer his to control.
"I feel like Marvin in Wonderland," the former Maryland governor confessed today, there days after a federal appeals court reinstated his political corruption conviction. "I'm taking Alice's place. I'm seeing new wonders ever day; strange and different things are happening."
In the first interview since his latest legal setback, the man who left little to chance in managing Maryland's political universe for almost a decade said he has become resigned to the uncertain rate of a convicted felon.
"This is a different arena," the two-term governor said. "It's an arena where you have to have other people [lawyers] doing your fighting because you're not in a position to do it yourself.
"I'm realistic enough to know that things can happen over which we have no control. We can't make our own destiny. We can work toward it, but we can't control it."
The 3-to-3 decision by which the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated his conviction and four-year prison sentence, Mandel said, left him "very disappointed and bewildered."
"Having a tie vote, and the implications of it were bewildering," he said. "When you have a tie, it's basically no decision. There has to be a conclusion somewhere."
Then drawing on his experiences from earlier years, he added: "If a committee in the legislature had a tie, it would put off the final vote until it could find some more members and reach a final decision." Mandel said the next course will be decided shortly by his lawyers, who are considering another appeal to the same six judges who reinstated the conviction last week.
Mandel, 59, appeared fit and tanned as he spoke in his suburban Annapolis consulting office, sitting behind a large mahogany desk marked by his old official nameplate: "The Honorable Marvin Mandel: Governor of Maryland."
By his side, as usual, was his wife, Jeanne, who spoke more bitterly of the appellate decision. "I've reached the point," she said, "of really being bothered by our system. Is it fair when a 3-to-3 tie decides anything this important?"
The Mandels, who work side by side in his two-room office, had one foot out the door last Friday when the telephone call came from one of his lawyers.
Jeanne Mandel sat across the desk from her husband as he listened to the news. "I could tell by the expression," she said today. "I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't good.
"I was very quiet for a long time, both of us were. I sat and thought about things and my first though was that the older children would understand. But how are we going to tell Paul," her 13-year-old son by another marriage.
The first thought for Mandel was more personal. "The thing that came to my mind," he said, "was that it's still not over."
There were no tears of sadness this time, as there were when Mandel was convicted in August 1977. Nor were there tears of happiness, as there were when the appeals court overturned the conviction last January.
"After you've had a disease long enough, you become immune" to the symptoms.
After several moments of silence, the Mandels left the office, resuming their original plans -- picking up Paul, who had spent the last week at a football clinic at the University of Maryland's College Park campus.
Shortly after they arrived there, Mandel took his stepson aside and broke the news to him. When the former politician asked Paul if he understood the implications, he replied, "I certainly do, Boss, but I certainly don't understand the 3-to-3 business. In sports, if there's a tie, you go into overtime."
The weekend went as planned: dinner with friends in Prince George's County, breakfast at Chick and Ruth's Deli in Annapolis, a stop at Mandel's favorite tobacco shop for a poind of "Unique" blend and then an overnight boat trip to the Eastern Shore on a friend's cabin cruiser.
Throughout the weekend, however, some topics could not be avoided -- the prospects of additional legal fees (the current bill reaches six figures), the anxieties of yet another appeal and, of course, prison.
"It's [prison] a terrible thought." Mandel said today. "Nobody wants to be locked up, away from their family. No human being wants that hanging over his head.
"The whole thing is a terrible strain," he said. "You can't plan your life. You can't sit down like any average family and lead a normal life and that's all you want to do. But you can't because of the constant pressure."
The fight has been tiring and debilitating, he said, but one he plans to continue. "If it takes the rest of my life, I'm going to try to show that I never did anthying to hurt the state of Maryland and I'll never give up on trying to show that's true."