Baltimore mayor back on job despite guilty verdict

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 5:27 PM

Mayor Sheila Dixon's misdemeanor fraud conviction fails to meet a key standard necessary for her removal from office, her attorney said Wednesday as the mayor resumed her regular duties a day after the verdict.

Her criminal defense lawyer, Arnold M. Weiner, said the guilty verdict reflected testimony about actions that weren't part of Dixon's duties as City Council president, the post she held at the time.

State law requires removal of elected officials who are convicted of crimes related to their public duties and responsibilities.

A legal expert, however, said the argument that the conviction didn't pertain to her public responsibilities would be weak.

It's not clear if her defense team would have an opportunity to argue that point before a suspension took effect, or whether such a claim would be decided by the trial judge or another court.

Her defense team plans to appeal the conviction.

Meanwhile, former mayor and fellow Democrat Kurt L. Schmoke said Dixon owes her constituents an apology if she plans to fight for her job.

"The city has been put through a very traumatic situation. She should apologize for having placed the city in this situation and maybe ask the city for forgiveness," said Schmoke, who served as Baltimore's mayor from 1987 to 1999 and is now dean of Howard University's law school in Washington.

Dixon's conviction of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary of $525 worth of gift cards carries a penalty ranging from unsupervised probation to five years in prison. Her sentencing hasn't been scheduled. The jury acquitted her on three other counts, including felony theft, and failed to reach a verdict on a second count of misappropriation.

Under state law, Dixon must be suspended upon sentencing for a conviction that's related to her public duties and responsibilities and involves moral turpitude. She would be removed permanently and replaced by the City Council president if she loses all appeals.

Byron L. Warnken, associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said Maryland case law has determined that fraudulent misappropriation is a crime of moral turpitude. He said any argument that Dixon's conviction wasn't related to her public duties would be weak, but a stronger case could made that she can't be removed as mayor for an offense she committed before attaining that office.

"'It's a moot point because I'm finished being City Council president' _ I think that's an argument," said Warnken, an experienced appellate and criminal defense lawyer.

City Solicitor George A. Nilson, a Dixon appointee, said the first-term mayor would remain focused on citizens' concerns and the city's business until her appeals are exhausted.

Meanwhile, mayoral spokesman Scott Peterson said Dixon's focus "is on the city and the citizens of the city."

He said Dixon conducted a senior staff meeting Wednesday morning and had lunch with the city's public schools chief.

Later in the afternoon, Dixon joked about the media attention at an event at a police precinct where a community group donated $5,000 to the department's mounted unit.

"Well, it's really great to be here and it's great that you brought out all the media for this event. I'm impressed," the mayor said, acknowledging the half-dozen television cameras before her.

Dixon said she wouldn't comment as reporters shouted questions about whether she would step down.

Baltimore residents and downtown workers had varying views on Dixon's future. Leon Hines, owner of a downtown lunch counter, said she should resign.

"Her own peers found her guilty; she's responsible for her actions," said Hines. He posted a lighthearted sign reading, "We don't carry gift cards," outside his store Wednesday.

However, Miranda Phipps, whose family firm, Phipps Construction Contractors, regularly vies for city contracts, said Dixon should stay on.

"We don't want the mayor to step down," Phipps said. "We want her to appeal."

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Associated Press Writers Alex Dominguez and Ben Greene contributed to this report.