Noticed but nameless in The Wall Street Journal

“A Maryland newspaper.”

Really, The Wall Street Journal? You write about news The Daily Record broke, and you credit “a Maryland newspaper”?

What, your story ran over by a line so you had to cut out our name? Or maybe all your fact-checkers had the day off?

Or were you trying to be cute, since today’s article — “Anonymous Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury” — is, after all, about withholding names?

In the article, reporters Ashby Jones and Nathan Koppel use the trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich as a news hook to discuss the practice of withholding the names and addresses of jurors.

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The courts and the tweets

I’ve come to view the social norms of the courtroom as very similar to a house of worship. You dress up nice, speak in hushed tones and try not to snore during a sermon or closing argument.

I also know you don’t whip out your cell phone in either sanctuary. If you have to call someone or need to have an in-depth conversation, you step out into the hallway as far away from everyone else as possible. It’s both considerate and common sense.

I was thinking about this as I read Andy Green’s criticism of the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s ban on Twitter in the courthouse, prompted by the Dixon trial and verdict. As The Daily Record’s Official Dixon Verdict Tweeter, I guess I’m part of the reason why the ban was enacted.

My tweets, for the record, came from the hallway outside the courtroom. Granted, most of my tweeting was done while we were awaiting a verdict, so I wasn’t leaving the courtroom during any proceeding. But when court was in session, I would try to leave quietly during a break in the action, even if that was simply someone else speaking.

Of course, the nature of the Dixon trial meant there were at least a half-dozen people “quietly” leaving the courtroom at the same time as me. Judge Dennis M. Sweeney solved the problem on at least two occasions by allowing a group of reporters to sit in the back of the courtroom and leave to Tweet and report on his cue. Once we left the courtroom, though, we were not allowed back inside until the proceeding ended.

So while you’re “working” from home today, answer me this: How would you handle Twitter if you were a judge?

Tweeting in the halls of justice — literally

As Caryn Tamber reported today, we can no longer tweet from within the courtroom at the Dixon trial. That doesn’t mean the tweets have been silenced, though; they’ve just moved down the hall. You can still watch for updates on www.twitter.com  by “following” @mddailyrecord, or just search for #DixonTrial.

This morning, for example, we learned that “things [were] getting a little out of order” in the jury room last night, and the jurors continue to correspond with the judge seeking clarifications on points of law or, at least, a legal dictionary. (Don’t worry, the judge nixed THAT idea.) What do you think — does this bode well for the prosecution or the defense?

Of furloughs and following orders

While much of the state’s government will be shut down on Friday by Executive Order 01.01.2009.11, the courts will be up and running under Chief Judge Bell’s Administrative Order Pertaining to Temporary Salary Reduction etc.

The distinction might seem clear enough, but as Julie Bykowicz writes in today’s Sun, lots of the lawyers who will be expected to appear in court on Friday are state employees, including those in the offices of the public defender, attorney general and the state prosecutor.

Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough says he’ll be in court Friday, since the Paterakis arraignment is on the schedule. Granted, if it’s anything like Helen Holton’s arraignment on Wednesday, that will amount to about a nickel’s worth of time on a parking meter — but it’s still his own nickel.

If you look at the Judiciary’s Administrative Order, McDonough’s just being prudent. In no uncertain terms, Chief Judge Bell warns:

Persons with business before a court shall not be excused because of the Executive Order.

The Executive Order, though, is equally clear:

F.  An employee may not work during furlough time except that in the event of an emergency the appointing authority may revoke furlough time and the employee shall be paid for that time. An employee whose furlough time is revoked due to an emergency shall be required to take the furlough time on another day.

It’s possible an emergency was declared and McDonough’s furlough was revoked, or that whatever procedure is required to make that happen will, in fact, happen before he puts in his timecard. I sure hope so.

I’d hate to see an ethics prosecutor brought up on a payroll technicality, let alone for refusing to follow a direct order from the chief.

This week in Maryland Lawyer

ON THE COVER: Top court returns — The Court of Appeals begins its September 2009 term this week. The high court will hear cases addressing the cap on non-economic damages, legal malpractice and whether a truck driver can be guilty of vehicular manslaughter for leaving the scene of a gravel spill from his truck.

Also on the Court of Appeals — the judges recall their summer break; columnist Chris Brown ranks last year’s votes; and plaintiffs’ lawyers Henry E. Dugan Jr. and George S. Tolley III explain the importance of last term’s landmark informed-consent decision.

In Breaking News, Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton fights new charges; an immigration lawyer is disbarred after pleading guilty to fraud; and an attorney owes fees for having filed suit without sufficient justification.

In Verdicts & Settlements, a motorcyclist receives $200,000 in damages after colliding with a hand truck that fell from a passing box truck.

U.S. District Magisitrate Judge Charles B. Day of Greenbelt has no plans to take it easy after stepping down from the Federal Magistrate Judges Association after a decade in senior posts at the group.

Stay up-to-date with our Law Digest, which includes cases from the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. District Court, Maryland.

No, Mayor Dixon didn’t say that

A few news organizations, including The Sun, were fooled today by a prank Web site carrying a message that purported to be from Mayor Sheila Dixon. The backstory is this: a British official compared the city of Manchester, which has had a spate of violence, to The Wire, which was, of course, about Baltimore.

A British blogger then made up a fake Web site made to look like Dixon’s official one, in which he, as Dixon, took the politician to task. The post read, in part:

To present a television show as the real Baltimore is to perpetuate a fiction that dishonours our city. It is as pointless as boasting that Baltimore has a per capita homicide rate a fraction of that in the popular UK television show Midsomer Murders.

The Baltimore Police Department is working hard to protect the people of this city and it should be remembered that The Wire was just a television show. As this video shows, there is so much more to Baltimore than The Wire.

The site, which appears to be no longer accessible, then linked to a video showing scenes from the violent Midsomer Murders show, accompanied by the theme song from The Wire. The video points out that there are more deaths in the British show than in the American one, then ends with the “Visit Baltimore” logo.

This afternoon, Dixon’s (actual) office sent out a statement correcting the record and saying that “The city’s Law department as well as the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology have been informed and are currently investigating this violation of the city’s website for copyright infringement of the City of Baltimore and the Office of Mayor.” Mayoral spokesman Scott Peterson also forwarded an e-mail from the blogger behind the fake site:

Scott,

I made a joke for my friends that was circulated more widely than intended. No-one was supposed to be fooled beyond the words “Midsomer Murders” and just in case, I made a little video and linked to it which was in no way conceivably genuine. I registered the domain in my own name, I wrote using English spelling, I left a message in the source code and at the bottom of the page I attributed the copyright to my blog pseudonym. I didn’t imagine anyone in the US or in the UK would believe it.

Please could you pass on my apologies to anyone in your office who has been inconvenienced by this prank. I will be editing the masthead to make it clear that it’s not the real site.

Yours,

Alex Hilton

The mayor’s spokesman told me that, despite the statement about the law department investigating, the city plans no litigation against blogger Hilton. “No, at the end of the day it’s a hoax,” Peterson said.

That said, “We want to make sure people understand that this is serious,” Peterson said. “It’s not a joke when you lift the website’s information…. It is dangerous and we’re just lucky that it wasn’t anything more of a serious intent.”

Corruption trials, Chicago-style

aba-friedmancrop-55-003.jpgGreetings from Chicago and the American Bar Association’s Annual Meeting through a Maryland-focused lens!

First, just let me say, the public art and architecture is jaw-dropping, the deep-dish pizza is jaw-inspiring, and the water in Lake Michigan — well, I haven’t been in yet, but I hear it’s jaw-chilling, even in the height of summer.

Speaking of jawing, let me just give you a flavor for what’s on offer here.

One panel this morning – Hot Topics and Recent Developments in Public Corruption Investigations & Government Ethics – seemed particularly apt in light of the (re)indictments handed up this week in the Baltimore City Hall corruption cases.

Moderator Patrick M. Collins, who successfully prosecuted former Illinois Gov. George Ryan and was U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald’s corruption unit supervisor before going into private practice, kicked off the session with a video montage of seemingly endless local news coverage of the prosecution of this state’s notoriously corrupt politicos. It included a clip from The Daily Show in which host Jon Stewart, with statistical backing, claims a person is more likely to go to jail if he is an Illinois governor than if he is a murderer.

The ensuing discussion centered on the botched prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the recent high-profile cases here in Chicago and how prosecutors and judges should handle sticky issues like turning over Brady material and interaction with the media in such cases.

The panel unfortunately did not include any current prosecutors – the DoJ and Fitzgerald’s office were invited but declined – but nothing else about the panelists was wanting: Ed Genson, who represented Rod Blagojevich; Robert Cary, who represented Stevens; U.S. District Judges Paul L. Friedman (D.C.) and Amy St. Eve (Ill.); and Abner J. Mikva, the former five-term Congressman and D.C. Circuit Judge, were all in attendance. (Friedman and Mikva are shown in the photo above.)

Cary laid into the prosecutors from the DoJ’s public integrity unit for withholding exculpatory evidence in the Stevens case, and praised an FBI whistleblower, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the presiding judge, Emmett Sullivan, as heroes. That kicked off a debate on Brady v. Maryland.

“I don’t think prosecutors understand their Brady obligations,” Judge Friedman said. “Judges should not accept representations that, ‘We know our obligations and we’re meeting them.’”

Friedman went on to say that while the appellate standard might be whether the information is material, “it sure as hell shouldn’t be the standard the prosecutor applies.”

“That’s looking at it pretrial through the wrong end of the telescope,” he said, a stance with which Mikva seemed to agree.

Cary and Genson support going one step further: an open-file policy. And Judge St. Eve suggested the safest course of action is to ask the judge.

Mikva would also probably approve of at least one aspect of Maryland State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh’s conduct over the past few years in his pursuit of Baltimore Mayor Sheila A. Dixon, City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and developers Ronald H. Lipscomb and John Paterakis. “I do not like…the prosecutor trying his case, and particularly tainting the jury pool, with a big press conference,” Mikva said, calling the prosecutor’s duty to inform the public “nonsense” given the presumptive openness of the courts. But, he admitted, “I’m not sure we can do anything about it.”

And as for the jury’s exposure to public information, all agreed that jurors conducting outside research is a big problem, especially in the age of the Internet, and that establishing a rapport with them that makes them feel invested in doing things right is the only way to check that tendency.

“Do you Twitter, Eddie?” Rollins quipped to his longtime rival.

“I don’t even know what that word means,” Genson responded to laughter.

What do you think these lawyers and judges would say about this year’s action in the City Hall cases?

– BRENDAN KEARNEY

Dixon subpoenas still quashed, but the wrangling goes on

Wednesday’s reindictment of Mayor Sheila A. Dixon is reinvigorating our interest in the fight between her lawyers and the state prosecutor over three grand jury subpoenas issued well after her first indictmen.

Even though the state prosecutor withdrew the post-indictment subpoenas shortly after her lawyers sought to quash them earlier this month, the presiding judge asked for more discussion of the issue.

And lawyers on both sides, none particularly shy, have obliged, poised to make pretrial hay of the controversy.

Last Monday, State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh said the public filing of Dixon’s motion to quash — to prevent two current city employees and one former city employee from offering testimony and evidence to the grand jury — was “in direct contravention” of the Maryland rules and that it could “inappropriately influence the potential jury pool and prospective jurors.” He promised to say more in a private hearing.

Dixon’s lawyers called Rohrbaugh’s two-page response “paltry” and accused the state prosecutor of blaming Dixon for his mistake.

“By withdrawing the subpoenas, the State impliedly admits that it abused the grand jury process by issuing them in the first place,”their motion reads. “Yet, in what can only be described as the height of irony, the State Prosecutor complains that the defendant has wrongfully exposed his abuse of process by filing her motion on the public record.”

“The grand jury is not the prosecutor’s private discovery cell, and he should not be permitted to undermine the integrity of the Court’s processes to his own advantage, nor hide behind the veil of grand jury secrecy for that purpose.”

Rohrbaugh argues it’s a moot point, but Dixon’s defense team thinks there might be “other potential similar violations.”

In light of yesterday’s reindictments, is the subpoena question even more moot, or even more relevant?

– BRENDAN KEARNEY

 

Corruption co-counsel

A pending motion to unseal more of the corruption case against former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. and his wife, Mary Pat, comes at a curious time (even aside from how it fits in with the movant-intervenor William C. Bond’s pro se litigation schedule).

As Bond seeks to know why Gerard P. Martin and Joshua R. Treem switched clients in the Bromwell case and why the presiding judge disqualified them on the eve of trial, those same two lawyers are in the thick of defending the latest high-profile political corruption case: the state prosecutor’s investigation of a prominent Baltimore developer’s influence at City Hall.

Treem represents Baltimore City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton, who has been indicted for allegedly taking a bribe, in the form of a political poll, from developer Ronald H. Lipscomb. Lipscomb, who also faces a bribery count, is represented by Martin. Lipscomb’s trial is scheduled for June; Holton’s is slated for October. (Mayor Sheila A. Dixon has also been indicted and is supposed to stand trial after Labor Day.)

Now, there’s no reason to believe history will repeat itself here. The Bromwell episode is but one in Martin’s and Treem’s long careers defending big cases, and the Bromwells’ status as husband-and-wife co-defendants is quite different from Holton’s and Lipcomb’s relationship as alleged partners in a bribe.

It just provides some curious context for the April 23 motions hearing (to dismiss the indictments) in the case and the trials later this year.