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Ex-senator makes his case with flourish

They quote Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. They invoke Plato. And darkly, they imply that federal prosecutors want to use the "blank back" of the nation's founding documents to print "accusatory press releases."

In the normally staid, often intentionally dull world of federal court motions, recent filings from the attorneys for former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell stand out for their rhetorical punch.

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This combative approach could set the tone for what is expected to be the trial of the year in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, pitting a former politician once considered among Annapolis' most powerful against federal prosecutors who accuse him of cashing in on his position.

Little more than a month before jury selection is set to begin, Bromwell's attorneys submitted court papers asking the judge to protect the Baltimore County Democrat's $400,000 severance package from seizure by the government before his trial on public corruption charges. Without those funds, the lawyers wrote, they would be forced to leave the case.

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Federal prosecutors charged Bromwell and his wife, Mary Patricia, in October 2005 with illegally benefiting from a relationship with a former Baltimore contractor. So far, seven defendants have pleaded guilty in related cases and agreed to help prosecutors in their case against the Bromwells.

The government's move to target the Bromwells' funds casts a "deathly chill" over the Bromwells' efforts to defend themselves, according to the couple's attorneys. The lawyers are also seeking to quash a government subpoena that seeks to examine records about a legal defense fund set up for the couple.

"Indeed, given the government's habitual disregard of the Bromwells' constitutional rights, one cannot be faulted for surmising that if the government has any intended use for the Bill of Rights in this case, it is only to print its accusatory press releases on the hollowed document's blank back side," the lawyers wrote in court papers filed Jan. 29.

In blustery pages that invoke lines from classic cinema, a relatively obscure Latin phrase and the Enron case, defense attorneys Joshua Treem, Brendan A. Hurson and Gerard P. Martin argued that their clients need the money from his old job as the president of the state's largest insurance fund for injured workers in order to mount a full defense.

It appears the bluster worked. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kathleen O. Gavin and Michael J. Leotta pulled back their request for the severance money, citing a series of still-confidential letters filed by the Bromwells about their assets.

The federal appeals courts have generally held that it is lawful for prosecutors to target substitute assets because ill-gotten proceeds might be difficult to trace or might have been spent.

But beyond the particular issue at hand, the new filings more generally demonstrate the unusually passionate animosity from the Bromwells' lawyers as the March trial date draws near.

"The rhetoric of the motion is completely unwarranted," said Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, whose office brought the Bromwell prosecution. "Our attorneys have conducted themselves with the utmost integrity. Any suggestion to the contrary is unwarranted."

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Defense attorneys in court papers are unrelenting, accusing prosecutors of pre-trial smear tactics and sabotage that imperils the Bromwells right to a fair trial.

"The government has apparently determined that it is necessary to toss aside the Sixth Amendment and to use its full force to strip the Bromwells of both their legitimately earned assets and their choice of attorneys," they wrote. "To their credit of both Mr. Bromwell and his wife, they have not succumbed to this despicable effort."

In an effort to show that prosecutors' actions no longer seem reasonable, the Bromwells' lawyers also compared them to the lawmen who pursued a pair of congenial rogues in a popular American film.

"The events of the past few weeks bring to mind a famous question posed in the venerable feature Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when, relentlessly trailed by a dogged law enforcement posse, Paul Newman asks Robert Redford, 'Who are these guys?'"

The lawyers continued: "Knowing that counsel for the Bromwells were out of town on December 28, 2006, not to return until January 2, 2007, the government - in yet another customary display of arrogant power - waited until the early afternoon of December 29, 2006, shortly before Court closed for the New Year's holiday weekend, to file, ex parte, its latest motion to freeze the legitimate assets of Mr. Bromwell."

Traditionally, motions filed in court contain Latin terms to explain legal principles. But the Bromwells court papers used the language to accuse prosecutors of unbridled zeal in their pursuit of the couple's assets.

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"Indeed, the government's request for such naked power begs the timeless question: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

The Latin phrase about the unchecked power of authority figures - which asks a question that originally appears in the works of Plato - roughly translates to "Who will guard the guards?" or "Who shall watch the watchers themselves?"

At one point, the defense team wonders what might come next for a couple that has already had most of their worldly goods frozen by government officials before their day in court. An earlier ruling by presiding District Judge J. Frederick Motz that authorized the pre-trial asset forfeiture has been appealed.

"Indeed, if the government can seize untainted substitute assets at will, what are the limits to this power?" the Bromwells' lawyers wrote to Motz again last week. "What prevents the government from peering into the Bromwell home with high-powered binoculars, waiting to see if they receive any valuable holiday presents?"

The legal team for the Bromwells, drawn from some of the city's best-known firms handling white-collar clients, has also undergone an unusual change, according to court papers. Thomas Bromwell, who has long had his own attorneys, has switched lawyers with his wife.

In earlier court documents, Treem, Hurson and Robert B. Schulman are listed as attorneys for Thomas Bromwell; Martin was the attorney of record for Mary Pat Bromwell.

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But in court documents filed by the U.S. attorney's office this week, the attorney for the former senator is Martin, and Treem is listed as the lawyer for his wife.

All parties declined to comment on the exchange.

matthew.dolan@baltsun.com

Excerpts

The following is from a federal court filing by attorneys for Thomas L. Bromwell, responding to an attempt by the U.S. attorney's office to seize his compensation money from a state insurance board as part of a corruption case. The attorneys argue that taking the funds would leave their client and his wife, also charged in the case, without the means to pay for his defense.

"Once upon a time, a defendant in a criminal case was presumed innocent. He was afforded the opportunity to mount a full and fair defense to the charges brought against him. He was allowed to use his indisputably legitimate earnings to hire an attorney of his choosing. He was allowed to use those honestly procured funds to compensate that attorney. In short, he was given a fair shake. Sadly, as the preamble to this paragraph connotes, the Bromwells have discovered that what they thought to be some of the most fundamental underpinnings of the internationally revered American judicial process are, according to the government, merely the stuff of fairy tales. ...

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"Indeed, given the government's habitual disregard of the Bromwells' constitutional rights, one cannot be faulted for surmising that if the government has any intended use for the Bill of Rights in this case, it is only to print its accusatory press releases on the hollowed document's blank back side.

"The events of the past few weeks bring to mind a famous question posed in the venerable feature Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when, relentlessly trailed by a dogged law enforcement posse, Paul Newman asks Robert Redford, 'Who are these guys?' Knowing that counsel for the Bromwells were out of town on December 28, 2006, not to return until January 2, 2007, the government - in yet another customary display of arrogant power - waited until the early afternoon of December 29, 2006, shortly before Court closed for the New Year's holiday weekend, to file, ex parte, its latest motion to freeze the legitimate assets of Mr. Bromwell.

"Indeed, the government's request for such naked power begs the timeless question: "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" ["Who will guard the guards?]" ... If the government can seize untainted substitute assets at will, what are the limits to this power? What prevents the government from peering into the Bromwell home with high-powered binoculars, waiting to see if they receive any valuable holiday presents?"


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