From Dixon's lawyer comes an early shot across Lipscomb's bow

Baltimore Sun

It's just one of the giant white binders that Mayor Sheila Dixon's lawyers keep at hand on the defense table, their way of organizing documents for her trial, but it's apparently the most important one.

"DIXON LIPSCOMB RELATIONSHIP," the cover says in big black letters.

Therein, the mayor's lawyer suggested Thursday, lies the answer to the question hanging over her trial: How would Dixon explain taking gift cards donated by Baltimore developers, allegedly for distribution to the city's poor during the holidays, and spending them herself?

The gift cards were, duh, gifts from her special developer guy, Ronald Lipscomb, a man with a well-documented history of lavishing her with presents, according to Dixon lawyer Arnold Weiner. Some more lavish than others, admittedly. But then a gal can hardly live on Choos alone; she needs a shirt or seven from Old Navy too, and Lipscomb's gift cards gave her the means to do that.

So that's where we find ourselves, three days into the trial. Call it: sex, lies and gift cards.

Weiner unloaded quite the bombshell as he offered the defense's version of the case during Thursday's opening statements. Dixon didn't steal the cards; she accepted her boyfriend's tokens of affection.

Affection doled out in increments of $50 Best Buy cards and $25 Target cards, perhaps, but then, not everyone measures love by the breadth and depth and height one's soul can reach. Try paying the cashier with a piece of your soul when you're buying a PlayStation, and you might wish your beloved had showered you with a stack of Circuit City cards.

By focusing the case on the DIXON LIPSCOMB RELATIONSHIP, Weiner offered an instantly compelling narrative for the case.

The developer is due to testify for the prosecution, but Weiner didn't wait until Lipscomb took the stand to start tearing him down. He said Lipscomb lied to prosecutors to get out of a bribery charge in a separate case and practically stalked Dixon after her marriage dissolved in 2002.

Weiner said Lipscomb "attached himself" to Dixon's circle of friends and even followed her when she went on a trip to Boston in December 2003. Weiner promised to introduce e-mails and other communications and all manner of "sweet talking" between the two. "He was burning up the telephone lines with Ms. Dixon," Weiner said, and their affair lasted longer than previously suggested.

He even managed to suggest how Lipscomb might be responsible for Dixon spending the gift cards donated by another developer, Patrick Turner. Weiner said Turner dropped his group of gift cards off at Dixon's office in an unmarked envelope at a time when she was expecting a Lipscomb gift.

"One of Mr. Lipscomb's wonderful ways of doing things while he was chasing after Ms. Dixon was to send gifts anonymously," Weiner said of Lipscomb's propensity for sending flowers to Dixon without signing his name. When Turner's gift cards landed in similar anonymity, Weiner said, Dixon assumed they were from her boyfriend.

Lipscomb figures in the other case Dixon has been charged in, perjury for failing to disclose on her city ethics forms the gifts he gave her while they were dating and going on romantic getaways that tended to involve some decidedly upscale shopping.

It'll be interesting to see how Weiner ultimately explains how someone who showered Dixon with Mano Swartz furs and a little something from Coach turned by the holidays into basically one of those guys you see on Christmas Eve, desperately grabbing a stack of gift cards.

Maybe the explanation is as simple as: Men!

With nine women on the 12-member jury, you have to wonder whether Weiner's version of the case didn't trigger some flashes of recognition among them. It always starts with moon and June and bangles and baubles, but all too soon you're at Target one night, buying your own darn present.

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