Five of the 12 jurors who convicted Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon of embezzling retail gift cards this month have been asked to return to court - this time, as witnesses.
A court official confirmed Tuesday that Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney sent a letter to the jurors who had communicated through Facebook during the three-week trial, asking them to appear at a hearing next week on Dixon's motion for a new trial. The letters were delivered to the jurors by sheriff's deputies in recent days, the official said.
The mayor's lawyers highlighted the potential misconduct of the Facebook jurors in a filing Tuesday, the final set of documents to be submitted to the court before the Jan. 6 hearing.
"[T]hese facts require the Court to conduct a further inquiry, as it intends to do, and to do so by obtaining the full record of all the communications among the jurors, including communications among those jurors after they were alerted to the fact that their communications during the trial had been discovered, to determine the extent of the juror misconduct," the defense attorneys wrote.
A Maryland Court of Appeals ruling makes clear that when there is an allegation of juror misconduct, the judge must hold an evidentiary hearing.
Among the other problems Dixon's attorneys have raised: one juror's failure to reveal her own theft charge; another juror's undisclosed contact years ago with Dixon and a witness in the trial; the judge's comments to jurors about reaching a verdict after six days of deliberations; the exclusion of evidence of Dixon's charitable giving, and confusion that they say arose when several theft-related counts were dismissed and evidence related to them excluded.
The cumulative effect of errors during the trial, attorney Arnold M. Weiner and the defense team wrote in their Tuesday filing, "was so obviously prejudicial to Ms. Dixon that there should be no doubt that she was deprived of her right to a fair trial and that a new trial is required."
State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh, in a filing last week, argued that any mistakes made during the trial were minor and harmless. "The Constitution entitles a criminal defendant to a fair trial, not a perfect one," Rohrbaugh wrote, quoting a Supreme Court case.
Dixon was convicted of a single misdemeanor count of embezzlement for using about $500 in Best Buy and Target gift cards intended for needy families to purchase electronics and other items for herself and her associates. Her conviction would become official upon sentencing Jan. 21, at which time she could be removed from office. City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would then become mayor until the fall 2011 election.