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Jean Marbella: A defendant of few words looks to find her mayoral oratory

Trials and ArbitrationJustice SystemRegional AuthorityElectionsSheila Dixon

Maybe it was denial, maybe it was just a need to never let 'em see you sweat - whoever 'ey are.

But even as some of her lawyers, staff and supporters were visibly upset by her conviction Tuesday, Mayor Sheila Dixon kept her game face on, a bit moist-eyed at one point but projecting a mostly stoney expression at least while in public.

Did the trial happen to someone else?

Obviously not, but as her trial has consumed much of the oxygen in town for the past three or so weeks, Dixon is surely among the few Baltimoreans who have yet to make their feelings known on the subject.

Prior to the trial on her use of gift cards intended for the needy, she took the stance many defendants take, saying she couldn't speak openly or at length about a pending legal matter. She promised, though, that "a lot of truth" would come out at trial.

It did, but none of it came directly from her. Dixon opted not to take the stand in her own defense - again, not an uncommon decision by defendants, and in fact there are strict instructions to jurors to not hold that against them.

But Dixon is, of course, not just any defendant. She is the elected mayor of a city. A defendant doesn't have to address a jury; a mayor has to speak to her constituents.

Much legal ink will be spilled in the coming days over whether the conviction should or will force her from office, and, if so, when. But in the meantime, if Dixon is saying Tuesday's verdict doesn't change her status as the city's mayor - and both she and the city solicitor who serves under her have issued statements to that effect - then the coming days will also be interesting in a political and not just legal sense.

How she transits from defendant to full-time mayor, how she moves from days at the defense table back to her office on the second floor of City Hall remains to be seen.

I've never seen Dixon issue as many no-comments as during the past three weeks. Before the trial, she could be counted on to speak at will about almost anything, from crime to shopping. She has always been as voluble on matters concerning the city as she's been zipped up on the subject of her indictment and, now, conviction.

In fact, most words we got from her as the trial was progressing were on everything but the trial. During breaks, she went on at length about city business, like the new live entertainment bill that the City Council passed and that she signed after about a month, and the four proposals for what to do with the Senator movie theater.

The funny thing is that the one sure way you could get a reaction from Dixon these past several weeks was to tease her about how hard it must be for her not to comment on the proceedings.

She joked about how, during testimony, she often wanted to jump from her seat and say, "Objection!" In the final days of the trial, when reporters had just about had it with the repeated bench conferences between the judge and the lawyers, the substance of which were further masked from audience ears by a white-noise machine, she started taunting us, along the lines of: I could tell you some really interesting things about what we discussed - but I won't.

Fair enough. But now what?

Dixon's lawyers would blanch when they saw her talking to reporters, wary of her trademark blunt style. But perhaps everywhere but in a courtroom, and particularly at City Hall and on the streets of Baltimore, that is a positive quality.

She's not the most polished speaker. But then, that's kind of refreshing at a time of consultant-, poll- or next-campaign-driven politicians.

Maybe it's not this exact moment, but surely there will come a time when she can - and must - speak about this conviction, about this whole gift card mess, with that same kind of frankness.

I just have one question, albeit a fairly global one: What on earth was she thinking?

So, I have to say this: Free Sheila Dixon - to speak, that is.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Trials and ArbitrationJustice SystemRegional AuthorityElectionsSheila Dixon
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