Defense message: Dixon cares

The lawyers defending Mayor Sheila Dixon in her trial on theft charges will attempt to convince the jury -- the one in the courtroom and the much bigger one out here in the rain -- that that the only pattern of behavior in the case was a pattern of caring for the poor, of generosity and charity. You wait and see. It's coming up.

Sheila Dixon will be portrayed as someone "with a lifetime of caring for the poor," in the words of one of her numerous attorneys, and there's no one way she would take gift cards intended for the poor on purpose.

Maybe accidentally. But not on purpose.

One picked up quickly on this defense strategy in the middle of a courtroom hearing held out of the earshot of the jury, before opening statements.

One of the prosecutors held up a thick stack of documents, apparently character testimony presented for introduction by the defense. Usually this "stuff," as Judge Dennis Sweeney referred to it, doesn't appear until the sentencing phase of a case, after trial and conviction. Today, the defense asked that it go into the record before the trial actually began. Apparently they've put all sorts of "stuff" in there about Mayor Dixon's record of generosity. That's what one of her attorneys, Dale Kelberman, said.

They want to show she's always been a generous person, and a generous person doesn't take from the poor.

Team Dixon plans to argue that all these accusations about Mayor Dixon misappropriating gift cards for the needy can be explained away as innocent mistakes. If the prosecution tries to show a pattern of naughty conduct by the mayor -- taking gift cards purchased by developers and using them for personal shopping sprees -- the defense will show a pattern of charity.

Remember now: This case turns on what the mayor of Baltimore, previously our City Council president, did with about 60 gift cards worth about $1,500. She got these over a four-year period. Three batches came from developer and ex-boyfriend Ronald Lipscomb, another batch from developer Patrick Turner, and another set of cards came from the city's Housing Department.

There was a fourth set, $500 worth from Target, and purchased by a third developer, Glenn Charlow, in December 2006.

But the jury won't hear about the Target cards, at least not in the main part of the trial.

Judge Sweeney ruled that, because the existence of the Target gift cards had not been revealed to the mayor's defense until last Friday at 6:15 pm, the evidence was inadmissible. It had arrived too late, the judge said, calling its 11th hour introduction a violation of Maryland discovery rules.

One can assume that the prosecution was disappointed with Judge Sweeney's decision. The Target cards, which prosecutors say Mayor Dixon gave to two members of her staff, would have almost certainly established a pattern of behavior by the mayor and men doing business with the city -- an annual (or shall we say, seasonal?) channeling of ostensibly charitable donations into the mayoral pockets.

But with the Lipscomb batch, the Turner batch and the cards from the Housing Department, prosecutors shouldn't need the Target batch. They have 60 cards over four years -- and they need to convince the jury that this pattern of cheesy behavior by Mayor Dixon was criminal. The defense, on the other hand, needs to prove that any misuse of cards was just a series of innocent mistakes by one of the most generous women in the world.

One side claiming four years of sticky fingers on gift cards versus another lauding "a lifetime of caring for the poor." This ought to be interesting.

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