Roughly a week before attorneys for former state Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell Sr. unexpectedly left the case, a federal judge criticized the defense team for attempting to intimidate him and government prosecutors into delaying the trial.
In secret court documents made public at The Sun's request this week, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz responds in a private March 6 phone call to a slew of pleadings made by attorneys for the Baltimore County Democrat and his wife, who are facing public corruption charges.
The Bromwells' attorneys - Joshua Treem and Gerard P. Martin - suddenly left the case March 16 for "irreconcilable conflicts of interest," according to Motz.
"I'm telling you, I'm not going to be bullied either by Mr. Martin telling me that he can't be effective unless the trial's postponed," Motz told the lawyers in the noontime conference call.
The attorneys, prosecutors and judge in the case all declined to talk about the conflict issue. The trial, which had been expected to begin this month, has been pushed back to an undetermined date this fall. The Bromwells have not officially retained new attorneys, according to prosecutors.
It's unclear whether the Bromwells' ability to pay their lawyers had any impact on their attorneys' abrupt departure.
In another call talking about the Bromwells' legal defense fund, Martin referred to the issue on Jan. 30, saying that the lawyers do not expect to make enough to cover their fees in the case.
"We are never going to get above zero," Martin told Motz. "We are always going to be in the hole in this case."
In an indictment unsealed in October 2005, federal prosecutors accused Bromwell of accepting bribes from a local construction company executive in exchange for help in securing publicly funded contracts. His wife, Mary Patricia Bromwell, is accused of accepting a salary for a no-show job at a subcontractor controlled by that construction company in return for her husband's influence.
Defense lawyers have responded in court papers that the government has shown no proof that the crimes outlined rise to the level of federal racketeering and question prosecutors' ability to show a quid pro quo for the Bromwells' alleged crimes.
The new disclosures do not directly address why the attorneys left the case on the eve of trial. Motz, who released hundreds of pages of transcripts of FBI recordings of the Bromwells, explicitly kept sealed court papers dealing with the issue, including an FBI witness interview report.
In the newly unveiled telephone transcripts, there are entire pages that have been blacked out and other sections redacted in more limited forms.
Earlier this month, Treem and Martin also filed under seal a motion to dismiss the October 2005 indictment against the Bromwells, alleging prosecutorial misconduct.
The attorneys alleged that the indictment against Thomas Bromwell, whom they describe as holding an "unrivaled record of meritorious accomplishment," was a product of a strategy by former Maryland U.S. Attorney Thomas M. DiBiagio.
DiBiagio, then the state's top federal prosecutor, wrote a series of internal e-mails published by The Sun in 2004, in which he called for three "front-page" corruption indictments before Election Day.
DiBiagio said at the time that he was simply pushing his staff to work harder, and said that his references to "front page" and November were not politically motivated, as some critics suggested.
Treem and Martin wrote that the resulting charges reflected a "systematic and calculated effort by the government to strip Mr. and Mrs. Bromwell of their constitutional rights and their ability to defend themselves," they wrote.
The attorneys complained that prosecutors misused the grand jury process, inappropriately froze the Bromwells' assets before trial and failed to provide the defense team timely and complete access to mountains of evidence amassed by federal agents.
During the transcribed call, Motz appears to grow impatient with the tone of the claims.
"I'm just tired of it. And I'm not going to put up with it," Motz said. Later, he added: "I can only say, I think some of it has been highly unprofessional, the tone of some of the papers. And I expect it to stop."
Current Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said last night that he was pleased by the judge's comments rebuking the defense attorneys.
"It's normal in public corruption cases for defense attorneys to criticize prosecutors and question their motives," Rosenstein said. "I'm satisfied that everything our prosecutors have done has been by the book."
The judge has not officially ruled on the misconduct allegation, according to lawyers in the case.
In a series of other documents, the defense lawyers attempted to get the trial delayed, again citing problems with receiving evidence from prosecutors. The investigation into the Bromwells includes some 600 boxes of FBI and IRS documents and transcripts of interviews with 73 grand jury witness, court papers show.
At the end of one phone call this month, Motz called on both sides for calm and professionalism.
"I really know how tough this is from the defense point of view," Motz said. "Just do it on the basis that life is too short. We've got to live with one another and you've got to live with government counsel and you've got to live with me and I've got to live with all of you for the next three months."
But 10 days later, the issue was moot because Treem and Martin had left the case, and the judge was forced to postpone the trial.
Archive text at baltimoresun.com/bromwell