BALTIMORE, NOV. 12 -- Marvin Mandel reclaimed his good name today, he said, and his license to practice law should follow.

A political comeback?

Unlikely, he said, though he couldn't quite bring himself to say absolutely, positively no.

The television lights were set up once again in the long conference room in attorney Arnold Weiner's office, the same place Mandel had met the media after many of the extraordinary twists and turns in the legal battles to determine whether he was a corrupt governor.

He thinks this finally is the last stop.

"I never did anything to hurt the people of the State of Maryland or deprive them of anything," he said. "And the judge has just said the same thing."

Actually, the federal judge who overturned the convictions of Mandel and his five codefendants was not exactly forgiving, writing that "the judgment of history" will determine "the question of petitioners' guilt or innocence."

But that was only a detail to Mandel and his codefendants, a group that ranged from one of the state's most influential political kingmakers to a lawyer even prosecutors seemed to feel was an unlikely and unfortunate player in the alleged scheme.

"I couldn't feel any better," said the kingmaker, Baltimore political fund-raiser Irvin Kovens, a close confidant of both Mandel and Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "I've finally been vindicated."

Mandel, Kovens and the other businessmen convicted in the affair -- Harry W. Rodgers III, William A. Rodgers and W. Dale Hess -- remained successful nonetheless. Ernest N. Cory said he was not as lucky.

The former Prince George's County lawyer accepted voluntary disbarment and to pay off debts he sold off real estate, cars, horses and a baby grand piano.

Before his law license was reinstated several years ago, Cory and his wife took in boarders to make ends meet.

"I'm not doing well," he said. "I'm making a living."

Cory was a friend of the Rodgers brothers, and never close to Mandel and the others, he said. Now 73 and in poor health, he said, "We'd kind of like to put this behind us and forget it."

The Rodgers brothers were reported out of town at a convention today, and Hess could not be reached for comment.

Today's opinion is another step in what Annapolis observers have called Mandel's comeback. Mandel already has asked the Maryland Court of Appeals to reinstate his licence to practice law, which is considered likely if his conviction remains reversed, and he and his attorneys were putting the finishing touches on a petition for a presidential pardon.

Mandel is also much more visible in the State House now that his friend Schaefer has replaced Harry Hughes as governor. Hughes, who in effect won election as a reformer after the Mandel years, said he had no comment on today's ruling.

Schaefer, who was a character witness for Mandel and Kovens at their sentencings, said he was not surprised by the ruling. "I have known Marvin Mandel and Irv Kovens for years and never knew them to do anything illegal," he said.

And at Chick and Ruth's Delly in downtown Annapolis, where a breakfast booth is still roped off for Mandel and proclaimed as the Governor's Office, the regulars are expecting a celebration.

Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.