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Former judges and Baltimore prosecutors offer praise for Ken Ravenell and others accused of aiding a federal drug conspiracy

A retired judge of Maryland’s highest court. A former federal judge and Baltimore solicitor. Two city state’s attorneys. The federal public defender for Maryland.

A who’s who of Baltimore’s legal community testified Friday in the conspiracy case against prominent defense attorney Ken Ravenell. The defense team for Ravenell and his alleged co-conspirators presented jurors with a parade of character witnesses, including some of the biggest legal names in town.

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“Mr. Ravenell is a person of unquestioned good character,” testified Andre Davis, a former federal judge and city solicitor. “He is a professional in every sense of the word. He’s diligent, he’s smart, he’s a person of integrity. He has the respect of judges and other lawyers, and he has really manifested, in my view just over the course of his career, just everything we want in a legal professional.”

One by one, the judges and trial lawyers told of the good character and reputation of the three defendants: Ravenell, investigator Sean Gordon and veteran attorney Joshua Treem.

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“Joshua Treem, as a man and as a lawyer, possesses the highest and finest moral character that a person can have,” said Judge Gale Rasin of Baltimore’s mental health court.

Among those to testify were former Baltimore State’s Attorneys Gregg Bernstein and Stu Simms. Simms worked with Treem at the law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy.

The character witnesses testified in the first day of the defense case for Ravenell, Treem and Gordon. Federal prosecutors spent nearly two weeks presenting evidence they argue proves Ravenell carried out a racketeering conspiracy and money laundering scheme with a marijuana kingpin.

Prosecutors have been building the criminal case against Ravenell for years. The attorney represented the marijuana boss and nightclub impresario Richard Byrd, who trafficked marijuana across the country and was indicted in 2014.

With Byrd’s case pending, federal agents raided Ravenell’s office at the firm of William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr.

Byrd was convicted and sentenced to 26 years in prison in 2017. Two years later, prosecutors brought criminal charges against Ravenell, raiding his office and the office of a law firm that represents him. He’s charged with helping Byrd and his crew, laundering money and trying to silence witnesses.

Ravenell has pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice. His attorneys told jurors that he never knowingly accepted drug money, and that actions he took for the Byrd organization were in his job as a defense attorney.

Last year, prosecutors added another prominent defense attorney, Treem, and Gordon as defendants, charging them with conspiring with Ravenell to obstruct justice when they met with Byrd in jail. The trial has continued for two weeks in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

For a case that centers on a lawyer’s integrity, the defense team spent Friday calling character witnesses.

Gordon had worked to investigate wrongful convictions for the nonprofit Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.

“I have always known Sean to be a super honest guy and somebody who has the highest integrity,” Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, told the jury.

Treem is charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly sending a misleading letter about the case, particularly the relationship between Byrd and Ravenell, to a federal judge. Treem wrote the letter; Gordon signed an affidavit making the same assertions as the letter.

Assistant U.S. attorneys did not challenge the complimentary words of the judges and trial lawyers who testified for the defense, but they asked the same question of each.

“Do you have any personal, firsthand knowledge of the facts in this case?”

Each replied: “No.”

The trial resumes Monday.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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