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The Dixon plea agreement and what it means

Baltimore Sun reporter

Mayor Sheila Dixon's plea deal - crafted in legal terms such as Probation Before Judgment and Alford plea - left many questions about her criminal record and her future. Here's a primer on the arrangement and the events it will trigger:

Dixon will receive a Probation Before Judgment, or PBJ. What is that?

Probation Before Judgment is a legal procedure that allows the court to dispose of minor cases against people whom prosecutors do not consider to be serious felons, says David Gray, assistant professor of law at the University of Maryland.

"What it does," Gray says, "is allows prosecutors and the defense to say, we will not prosecute you if you stay out of trouble or meet other terms."

Typically it's used for low-level offenses such as speeding or minor drug infractions. If terms are met, the charges are dismissed.

Dixon entered an Alford plea to a perjury charge. What is that?

In an Alford plea, a defendant does not admit guilt and acknowledges that the prosecution has enough evidence to prove its case, but maintains that procedural issues have tainted the process. For instance, a defendant who contends that he was subjected to an illegal search might enter an Alford plea if during that search, police found all of the evidence used to prosecute him.

"It's a way of saying, 'I agree you have all of the facts, but nonetheless I want to preserve my appellate right," Gray says.

Douglas Colbert, a professor of law at the University of Maryland, says the use of the Alford plea is "relatively rare" and "allows a person to avoid saying, 'I did it.' "

Who will pay Dixon's legal fees?

George Nilson, the Baltimore city solicitor, says taxpayers will not foot the bill. He says the fees will either be forgiven, reduced or be paid privately. "They will not be paid for by the City of Baltimore," he says.

Arnold M. Weiner, Dixon's lead lawyer, said she had no intention of asking the city to pay her legal fees.

Will Dixon have a criminal record?

Gray says no, as long as she follows through on the terms of the plea deal.

"The mayor will not have any criminal record at all at the termination of the agreement," Gray says.

What is the procedure for Dixon to expunge her record?

At the end of her probation period, Dixon will appear before a judge, who will determine whether she has met the terms. If she has, her record will be cleared.

Will Dixon be able to run for public office again?

Dixon can run for office, Nilson says, once she completes the probationary period detailed in her plea agreement. That's a period of four years, but can be reduced to two. That would leave her eligible to run for office in 2012.

Dixon's court agreement requires her to make charitable contributions to the Bea Gaddy Family Center and Youth Works. What are these organizations?

The Bea Gaddy Family Center in East Baltimore runs several programs, mainly to feed the hungry. The organization is known for its annual Thanksgiving meal for the needy. The group is named after a Baltimore activist and City Council member who died in 2001. She was known for feeding the homeless each Thanksgiving.

Youth Works helps connect Baltimore high school and college students with summer jobs. It's designed to help young people explore career options while offering a labor pool to area businesses.

Who's running the city for now?

According to Nilson, Dixon may wield all of the authority of the mayor's office until Feb. 4, when her resignation becomes effective.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake will be sworn in on that day as Baltimore's mayor.

Who will take over as City Council president?

According to Nilson and Avery Aisenstark, director of the city's legislative reference office, that is up to the City Council. The members may select anyone in the community who meets the age and residency requirements.

"It could be anybody," Nilson says. Candidates include Councilman Jack Young and former council member Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., with other council members mentioned as possible contenders.

The individual will serve the remainder of Rawlings-Blake's term.

If a council member is appointed City Council president, how would the council vacancy be filled?

There would be public notice and people who live in the open council district would be allowed to submit applications. A nominating committee composed of council members working in open session would consider the applicants and nominate someone.

There would be a public hearing on the nomination and then the council would vote. If the nominee were rejected, the nominating committee would pick another.

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