Dixon likely to seek new trial

Mayor Sheila Dixon's attorneys signaled Friday that they plan to ask for a new trial in her gift card misappropriation case, while the state prosecutor said he would not "at this time" retry the one count that hung the jury this week.

In a filing hand-delivered to Baltimore Circuit Court, Dixon attorney Dale P. Kelberman requested 10 more days to prepare his motion for a new trial, saying he needed time "to obtain certain transcripts of testimony and other evidence."

Presiding Judge Dennis M. Sweeney denied the request. The defense motion is due Friday.

The mayor can continue in office at least until her sentencing, a date for which has not been set. For the misdemeanor, she faces penalties ranging from probation to five years in prison. If Dixon leaves office, City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake would become mayor.

At one of four public events she attended Friday, Dixon was asked about prosecutors' decision not to retry one of the criminal counts. "Oh, did they?" she replied. "I didn't know that. I've been working all day."

Throughout the day, Dixon appeared to be in high spirits. She teased a police major about his appetite at a meal for Southern District officers and urged schoolchildren to use their "outdoor voices" as they were presenting a play about preventing littering at a stream-restoration ceremony.

"This is what I do all the time. This is what I like doing," the mayor said during a pause in her bike ride.

She avoided questions about whether she would apologize for her actions, as some former city leaders and crisis management experts have suggested. Dixon has said that her lawyers have told her to limit her comments about the case as they consider their next move.

Dixon's attorneys have not said what they might include in a motion for a new trial. Legal experts have predicted that the motion would center on the repeated mistrial requests during the trial and deliberations.

In arguing for a mistrial, Kelberman told the judge that jurors were too confused to render a fair verdict. The confusion, Kelberman said, was caused by Sweeney's having dismissed two of the seven theft-related counts when prosecutors chose not to call a key witness and by prosecutors asking the jury to sort through two competing theories about whether Dixon was guilty of theft or embezzlement of two sets of gift cards. The judge told jurors they could find Dixon guilty of either charge, but not both.

At least one juror referred to the panel as struggling to remember what evidence they were supposed to disregard as they deliberated - a problem that lead defense attorney Arnold M. Weiner had predicted in his closing argument.

"I imagine they will renew their motion, and now they have the added ammunition of what some of the jurors said publicly after the verdict," said David Gray, a University of Maryland law professor who followed the trial.

If defense attorneys believe the evidence the jurors used to reach their guilty finding was legally insufficient, Gray said, they can ask the judge to set aside the verdict.

Gray said split jury decisions can provide fodder for post-trial motions about juror confusion. The jury acquitted Dixon of three charges, found her guilty of one misdemeanor count and hung on another.

Defense attorneys have said they are reviewing out-of-court communications between the jurors on Facebook and the revelation that a juror failed to disclose that she had won a shopping spree from the city that she received at a 2006 event attended by Dixon and a key witness in the trial.

Prosecutors informed Sweeney on Friday that they will not immediately pursue a new trial on the count that hung the jury, but they appear to have reserved the right to do so later by noting that the charge has not been dropped.

The decision was predicted by area attorneys, who said a second misdemeanor conviction wasn't worth the effort of another lengthy trial. But the threat of further prosecution could be used as a bargaining chip. Dixon faces a perjury trial in March and awaits sentencing on the embezzlement conviction.

If Sweeney denies the post-trial motions, he would probably set a sentencing date then, Gray said. Defense attorneys cannot file appeals until the judge officially enters Dixon's conviction into the record, which occurs upon sentencing. The Maryland Constitution indicates that Dixon could be removed from office at that time.

Until then, Dixon is keeping a full schedule. At a meal prepared by community members to show appreciation for Southern District officers, Betty Baze, a Cherry Hill activist, pulled Dixon aside and expressed concerns about traffic on one-way streets.

Dixon is "still doing a good job. She's always been really helpful to us," Baze said later. "Sometimes you have to look at the goodness outweighing the badness."

In Hampden, Hope Johnson was chatting with a neighbor on her festively decorated porch and said she didn't realize that Dixon had ridden past on her bicycle. Had she seen the mayor, she said, she would have given her a piece of her mind.

"I think she ought to resign for the sake of Baltimore," Johnson said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Bykowicz contributed to this article.