- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

BALTIMORE | Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon now faces the possibility of two separate trials on perjury and theft charges — a development that could delay the conclusion of her high-stakes legal battle.

But her attorneys remain hopeful that the perjury charges will be thrown out and that her trial six weeks from now will be the only one.

Ms. Dixon is accused in separate indictments of lying about gifts from her developer boyfriend and stealing gift cards intended for needy families. The Democratic mayor could be ousted from office if convicted on any of the charges.

Attorneys on both sides announced Wednesday that the two indictments would be tried separately. The indictment accusing her of theft and related charges will be tried as scheduled on Nov. 9. The perjury trial will be rescheduled at a date to be determined.

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said the decision to try the cases separately was made by the defense. He said he was not surprised by the move and that he had no preference either way. Arnold M. Weiner, Ms. Dixon’s lead attorney, did not say why the change was made.

Ms. Dixon’s attorneys remain hopeful there will only be one trial. They argued at a hearing Wednesday that the two-count perjury indictment should be thrown out because prosecutors improperly used Ms. Dixon’s legislative acts as evidence against her.

Perjury charges were thrown out previously on similar grounds, which led prosecutors to obtain the new, separate indictments. Mr. Weiner said prosecutors had made the same mistake twice, calling it “an act of desperation.”

“Why would a prosecutor, after having the first indictment dismissed … be so reckless as to play with the same fire that already burned him once?” Mr. Weiner said.

Mr. Rohrbaugh argued that prosecutors merely introduced evidence of Ms. Dixon’s attendance at meetings — actions that are not protected under legislative immunity.

Ms. Dixon’s lawyers are “taking the position that anything Miss Dixon does is legislative privilege,” Mr. Rohrbaugh said. “How far does this legislative privilege extend?”

Retired Howard County Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, who is presiding over the Dixon case, said he would rule “as quickly as possible” on the motion.

Prosecutors used Ms. Dixon’s attendance at meetings and a groundbreaking ceremony with developer Ronald H. Lipscomb as evidence that she knew Mr. Lipscomb and his companies were doing business with the city. Mr. Lipscomb has been involved in projects that have received city tax breaks.

Ms. Dixon and Mr. Lipscomb had an affair in late 2003 and early 2004, during which he showered her with gifts, including fur coats, travel, clothing and cash. Ms. Dixon was City Council president at the time and did not report any gifts from Mr. Lipscomb on her financial disclosure forms.

Her attorneys have argued that Mr. Lipscomb did not meet the definition of a person doing business with the city under Baltimore’s ethics law.

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