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The Talk: Thrill is gone from Dixon court case

Fur coats - gone.

Jimmy Choos - gone.

Lavish hotel stays. Shopping sprees. Mysterious cash deposits coming just in time to cover the AmEx bill. Gone. Gone. Gone.

Does anybody else feel like they've just been dumped, not by a sugar-daddy/developer, but by Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney, who just took all the fun out of the corruption case against Mayor SheilaDixon?

Yes, Her Honor still faces charges that she took gift cards meant for needy families and spent them on herself. Still scummy, if true, and the mayor says it's not.

But Circuit City, Target and Best Buy are decidedly lacking in sex appeal.

"It doesn't give the story quite the life" it had before Sweeney's order to dismiss some charges against Dixon, said University of Baltimore professor Byron Warnken.

There's a lesson here for lovers and journalists alike:

Don't get too wrapped up in the merchandise. You'll only get your heart broken.

Holton's heavenly help
Maybe you get points for showing up.

The state prosecutor charged three people in his long-running City Hall corruption probe, but only one of them, City Councilwoman Helen Holton, braved the TV cameras and appeared in court last month, as defense lawyers for all three argued that the cases should be dismissed.

Now Holton is the only one who doesn't have to come back to court to stand trial (unless the prosecutor gets her charges reinstated on appeal).

Judge Sweeney also tossed out five of the 12 counts against Mayor Dixon, but she still has to answer for the rest. The judge denied developer Ron Lipscomb'smotion to dismiss the case against him.

Holton seems to think it's over, judging by an e-mail message she shot out to supporters Thursday even before she'd had a chance to sit down with her lawyer. If her troubles really are behind her, she should thank:

A. God

B. "Prayer Warriors"

C. Legislative immunity

D. All of the above

The answer is D, though the Rev. Holton only gives props to the Almighty and a host of prayerful combatants in the e-mail.

"Dear Faithful & Steadfast Prayer Warriors," her message began. "I wanted you to be among the first to know that our God, our mighty, mighty God, God that can do anything but fail has found favor with this child of his. The prayers of the righteous availeth much and God has used the life of this servant as a witness. I just got off the phone with my attorney and Judge Sweeney has granted the motion to dismiss put forth by my attorneys.

"HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!"

God works in mysterious ways, and here, it seems, the Lord made use of the common law doctrine of legislative immunity.

It boils down to this: Lawmakers can't be held liable for their official legislative acts.

"Under Maryland law, a legislator, even when protected by the full force of immunities, does not enjoy freedom from being prosecuted," Judge Sweeney wrote. "She does enjoy the privilege of not having her legislative acts be part of the evidence arrayed against her."

Sweeney noted a case in which a Maryland state delegate accepted a $5,000 retainer from bowling alley owners, who wanted to overturn a ban on serving alcohol at alleys. The delegate sponsored a bill to that effect and tried to drum up support for it in the General Assembly, according to evidence presented at trial. But he successfully appealed his conviction, arguing that it was based on protected legislative acts.

To a layman like me, that sounds absurd. How do you prove a quid pro quo if you can't enter the quo as evidence?

Professor Warnken, who served Thursday as my legal dial-a-quote, was good enough to explain. Prosecutors have to find other forms of evidence - testimony, a wiretap, something besides official legislative actions - to prove a lawmaker is selling votes, he said.

"If you can get some smoking gun that Laura met at Delegate Warnken's house and she gave him $5,000 and said, 'Here's what I expect to get out of it,'" he said. "'I'm buying the vote.'"

Gift that stops giving
Acting FDA Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein has ordered the agency to stop rewarding hard-working employees with gift cards, The Washington Post reported recently.

Sharfstein was Baltimore City's health commissioner before joining the FDA in March.

Any chance his gift-card crackdown inspired by Mayor Dixon's gift-card woes?

Through a spokeswoman, Sharfstein declined to comment.


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