Retired Howard judge to hear Dixon case

Dennis M. Sweeney is a retired Howard County judge.
Dennis M. Sweeney is a retired Howard County judge. (Sun file photo)
Retired Howard County Judge Dennis M. Sweeney will hear the corruption cases against Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Councilwoman Helen L. Holton and developer Ronald H. Lipscomb, according to a ruling yesterday from a Baltimore Circuit Court judge.

Sweeney is a visiting judge for Baltimore City and regularly hears city cases.

The ruling from Circuit Judge John P. Miller does not affect where the trials would be held; a Baltimore City jury would hear testimony and issue verdicts, if proceedings reach that stage.

Dixon was indicted last month on 12 charges including stealing gift cards that were intended for needy families, failing to disclose gifts from developers on her city ethics forms and misuse of office.

She has said she is innocent.

Holton was charged with accepting a bribe and misuse of office. Lipscomb was charged with bribing Holton and is a key figure in the state's case against Dixon.

They, too, have proclaimed their innocence.

Sweeney writes regular commentary for The Daily Record and has presided over high-profile cases, including a recent Court of Special Appeals hearing for two men convicted of killing three Baltimore children.

He could not be reached yesterday for comment.

University of Baltimore law professor Byron L. Warnken said he was not surprised that a judge from outside the city would be called, even though judges are state employees and the mayor has no authority over city judges.

"The point is not who they get their paycheck from," Warnken said. "They have to live in Baltimore City to be judge there. It is the mayor of their own city who is a criminal defendant. It puts too much pressure on [city] judges to hear that case."

State Prosecutor Robert A. Rohrbaugh asked for the cases to be tried by the same judge and said Sweeney has an "excellent" reputation.

Arnold Weiner, Dixon's attorney, was also pleased, calling Sweeney "an able, experienced, independent-minded jurist."

The three cases involve complex legal questions. Rohrbaugh and Weiner both said it is preferable for one judge to rule on them to avoid inconsistencies.

The next step will be for all attorneys to meet with Sweeney, according to the ruling.

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