- The Washington Times - Friday, May 29, 2009

BALTIMORE (AP) | Some of the charges against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and all charges against a councilwoman indicted in a probe of city finances were dismissed by a judge on Thursday.

The judge agreed with a defense motion that the mayor and Councilwoman Helen Holton have legislative immunity that protects them from charges for acts conducted in office.

Dixon attorney Dale P. Kelberman said four perjury charges and one misconduct charge against Ms. Dixon were dismissed, but seven theft, misappropriation and misconduct charges remain against the mayor because the evidence in those counts was not covered by legislative immunity.

“It’s not that there’s immunity from prosecution, it’s just that those legislative acts can not be used against them,” he said.

The mayor is accused of stealing gift cards intended for needy families and failing to disclose the cards as gifts to her. Prosecutors said Ms. Holton, 48, took a bribe from developer Ronald H. Lipscomb in exchange for her approval of city tax breaks for a hotel and office building project he was working on. Ms. Holton was charged with bribery, perjury, malfeasance in office and nonfeasance in office. Mr. Lipscomb, 52, was indicted on one count of bribery.

A Dixon spokesman declined to comment on the development. Ms. Holton did not immediately return a call for comment.

The cases against Ms. Dixon, Ms. Holton and Mr. Lipscomb were brought by state prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, an appointee of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., who heads a small office that investigates public corruption.

Retired Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who presided over the case, said in a memorandum issued along with the order that “Dixon and Holton are entitled by law to legislative immunity under Maryland law, and the Court has no choice but to recognize it and act accordingly.”

The concept developed to allow office holders to exercise their authority without fear of later being held liable for their actions by other branches of government. The prosecution argued that immunity only applied in civil cases, Judge Sweeney noted in the memorandum. But he disagreed, citing an 1808 decision that found immunity did not protect office holders for their own benefit but “to support the rights of the people, by enabling their representatives to execute the functions of their office without fear of prosecutions, civil or criminal.”

Judge Sweeney said it was not clear whether the grand jury would have brought some of the charges in the Dixon case and all of the charges in the Holton case if the prohibited evidence had not been used.

Judge Sweeney wrote that it “appears that the State Prosecutor proceeded without regard to the potential application of the legislative immunity doctrine,” and the “tainted evidence was a substantial factor underlying the indictment.”

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