Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2007

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On October 7, 1977, U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Taylor sentenced Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel to four years imprisonment after a jury found Mandel and his five colleagues guilty of federal mail fraud and violations of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). But that was just the tip of the iceberg for a case that was riddled with controversy from the beginning and would not finally rest until 1994. The members of the prosecution, defense and media reconvened in the Ceremonial Court Room at the University of Maryland-Baltimore’s Thurgood Marshall Law Library on October 12, 2007, to once more dredge up United States v. Marvin Mandel. Thirty years and five days after the 1977 sentencing, the two teams that passionately argued this prominent case were face to face once more.

The mood was light as history buffs, reporters, legal professionals, law students and professors entered for a retrospective of the landmark trial. Reminiscent of a Greek Amphitheater, the court room featured a semi-circle of slightly elevated seating, allowing the audience a broad and unobstructed view of the proceedings. One participant told University of Maryland School of Law Dean Karen Rothenberg that this “felt a little like a reunion.” Cy Smith, former President of the Federal Bar Association – Maryland Chapter, which organized the event, started the forum by noting it originated with U.S. Attorney Jeff Gray over a year ago.

“We feel there are a ton of terrific stories to come out of this,” Smith told the audience. “Thirty years allows us to have some perspective. It’s important to learn from history.”
The prosecution team of U.S. Attorneys Barney Skolnik, Ron Liebman and Dan Hurson sat at the table on the right side of the stage with Andrea Mitchell – a reporter for Channel 9 in Washington, D.C., during the trial and now the Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent for NBC – and Lee Baylin, who covered the Mandel case for the Baltimore Evening Sun.

Directly across from the prosecution, Arnold Weiner, the chief trial and appellate counsel for Governor Mandel, and the defense team gathered. On Weiner’s right and left, respectively, sat Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Charles G. Bernstein and William Brennan, Jr., both of whom represented the Governor’s co-defendant, Ernest N. Cory Jr. To Brennan’s left sat Thomas G. Green and Michael E. Marr, who represented brothers William A. Rodgers, III, and Harry W. Rodgers, respectively. Mandel, Cory and the Rodgers brothers, along with W. Dale Hess and Irvin Kovens, were indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in 1975 after it was alleged that the Governor had benefited racetracks in Marlboro and Bowie, in which the five co-defendants held special interest, and then received benefits from the defendants. Skolnik, the lead prosecutor during the trials, summarized that it is not illegal or uncommon for a Governor, or any person of important status, to promote or help their friends from their position, but, “If your friends are lining your pockets with $300,000, then it’s a crime.”

The tale of this case is tangled and complex. Mistrials, allegations of jury tampering, appeals and Judges being recused all added to the tense atmosphere of this trial. Though Mandel’s sentence was commuted to 19 months and his conviction was overturned in 1987, the case is still a hot topic.

“This case never had a legal basis,” exclaimed Weiner during the present-day discussion. “They [the government] couldn’t prove bribery so they brought this silly mail fraud case. They didn’t have a case. They didn’t have the facts.”

In a later response to Weiner’s claim, Skolnik sighed: “Arnie, Arnie, Arnie…” The entire room erupted with laughter.

General ribbing and jabs were volleyed between the two tables, but they were sent with smiles and landed on grins. It was clear that reverence between the tables abounded.
“They were first-class prosecutors,” said Weiner, who was met with similar praise from Skolnik.

The reporters offered their take on covering such a behemoth story. Baylin cited how pre-Watergate reporters and attorneys had an “open and trusting relationship” to the point that they would eat lunch and play cards together. In 1977, however, reporters were seen differently. At the forum, Weiner quipped, “The Sun hated Mandel and his friends.”

Mitchell highlighted the gap between reporting on a breaking story then and now. During the Mandel trial, Mitchell and her camera operator would film in the morning and early afternoon, then drive with the court-artist back to Channel 9’s headquarters in D.C.; when Mitchell covered the Scooter Libby case for NBC, every reporter had laptops and their stories were filed within minutes. The event was hectic for the reporters (Mitchell twisted her ankle chasing an ambulance that had a jury member in it), but all participants seemingly held a positive outlook on the case.

“Many of us feel it’s the most important trial we’ve ever covered,” said Mitchell.

“It was a learning experience for all of us,” said Marr, referring to the prosecution, defense and reporters.

The days were long under Judge Taylor, who was brought up from his Eastern Tennessee District in order to “get control of the case.” He would start early, end late, sit on Saturdays and even the Fourth of July. These 10 participants at the forum are forever linked through Mandel and likely would not trade the experience – though that is not to say they would do it again.

“I wouldn’t want to have that job today,” admitted 66-year-old Skolnik. “There’s too much gray in the world to ride a white horse 60 hours a week fighting bad guys. It’s fine if you’re 30.”

The whiz and flicker of cameras never ceased throughout the panel discussion. As the participants relived the case that bore the national spotlight, the photographers were able to take live snapshots of media and legal history.

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: November  2007