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Jury begins deliberations in Alston case

ANNAPOLIS — Del. Tiffany T. Alston’s defense team put the prosecution on trial in its closing arguments to the jury Monday, saying the state prosecutor had engaged in “arrogance and abuse of power” in bringing a “meritless” charge of misdemeanor theft of $800 in circuit court against the freshman lawmaker.

“This is a very simple case that could have been handled in one hour in the District Court,” defense attorney Raouf M. Abdullah told jurors at the end of the five-day trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt was in a “rush to tarnish [Alston’s] reputation,” added Abdullah, of Raouf M. Abdullah & Associates LLC in Upper Marlboro,

But Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Shelly S. Glenn told the jury it was Alston who abused and “took advantage of her public office” as a delegate.

“This really is a very easy case,” Glenn said.

Alston was “tricking the General Assembly into paying her law firm employee,” Glenn added. “She thinks she can pull a fast one and put Rayshawn Ford on the [state] payroll.”

Ford, who worked in Alston’s law office, was paid $800 as a legislative aide in January 2011, the month Alston, D-Prince George’s, was sworn in as a delegate, Glenn told the jury.

Glenn also scoffed at the notion of a prosecutorial animus toward Alston, noting the little-known delegate was in her first year in the General Assembly and had never before held elected or appointed office.

“Why in God’s name would my office be out to get her?” Glenn asked the jury. The defense “just put that seed out there.”

Alston, 35, faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted of the theft charge and an additional sentence if she is also found guilty of the related charge of misconduct in office.

Her fate could come down to whether the jury believes that Ford exclusively performed legal work for Alston, as the prosecution alleged, or that Ford performed the functions of a legislative aide from Alston’s office.

The defense, through witness testimony, said Ford handled constituent mail during Alston’s first month in office in January 2011 and helped keep her appointment calendar. The prosecution said Ford’s handling of constituent mail consisted solely of passing it on to Alston’s legislative aide and that Ford attended to Alston’s court and client calendar — as a law firm assistant would — to ensure it did not conflict with her General Assembly schedule.

“That’s not legislative work,” Glenn told the jury. “You should be insulted as taxpayers.”

The jurors deliberated from 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. before Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Paul F. Harris Jr. excused them for the evening. They will resume deliberations at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Prior to closing arguments, Harris dismissed two jurors Monday morning and replaced them with the two alternate jurors. One juror was dismissed after telling the judge she had seen Alston’s husband talking to one of the defense witnesses; the second juror was dismissed after acknowledging having discussed that sighting with the first juror, according to Abdullah’s co-counsel, J. Wyndal Gordon, a Baltimore solo practitioner.

Alston’s legal travails will not end with the current trial.

Alston, who serves on the House Judiciary Committee, faces an as-yet-unscheduled trial on charges of dipping into her campaign account for personal use, allegedly using $3,560 to cover her wedding expenses in December 2010 and making a $1,250 cash withdrawal.

She also faces a petition by the state Attorney Grievance Commission in an unrelated matter. Bar Counsel Glenn M. Grossman has asked Maryland’s top court to suspend Alston’s law license indefinitely for her alleged lack of diligence and communication with clients, as well as her alleged failure to respond to inquiries from his office. The Court of Appeals, heard arguments in the case last week, but has given no indication as to when it will rule.