BALTIMORE – The 18 years of Marvin Mandel litigation had it all, Arnold Weiner argues — an indicted sitting governor with a personal life out of a soap opera, crack lawyers and a fascinated public.
Everything, that is, but a crime.
Weiner, chief trial and appellate counsel for Mandel, was one of 10 defense lawyers and prosecutors involved who discussed — and argued over — the impact and details of Mandel’s trial Friday at the University of Maryland Law School in Baltimore. The event was prompted by the 30th anniversary of his original sentencing.
The former governor, now a prominent Annapolis lobbyist, was scheduled to be at the event but did not appear. Mandel’s law office said he was unavailable for comment.
A federal grand jury indicted Mandel in 1975 on racketeering and mail fraud charges. The government accused Mandel of orchestrating legislation that benefited two Maryland horse tracks, then accepting $300,000 in real estate interests and other rewards from track owners.
But the case put more than just a sitting governor and five co-defendants on trial, argued Andrea Mitchell, who covered the case for Channel 9 and is now NBC’s chief foreign affairs correspondent.
“The fabric of politics” and “the way of life in Maryland” were on trial as well, Mitchell said. Mandel’s scandal came on the heels of Vice President Spiro Agnew’s resignation in 1973 in a corruption scandal of his own stemming from actions taken while he was Maryland governor.
Mandel “grew up in a system” where “friends took care of you surreptitiously and then you took care of them,” said Ron Liebman, who helped prosecute Mandel.
Mandel’s conviction in 1977 was first overturned, then reaffirmed by an appellate court. President Reagan commuted his sentence in 1981 after Mandel served 19 months. The Supreme Court removed the legal standing used to convict Mandel of mail fraud in 1987, prompting a judge to set aside his convictions.
Mandel was charged with using the mail to defraud Maryland citizens of honest government. Barney Skolnik, the lead prosecutor, said Mandel was charged with mail fraud because bribery was not a federal charge.
But this case was about “huge, very complicated, very well-hidden bribery,” he added.
Nonsense, Weiner said.
Using mail fraud to prosecute Mandel was “based on a questionable view” of the statute, he said.
The prosecution claimed Mandel’s whole crime was doing nothing while the legislature overrode his horse track veto, Weiner added.
Skolnik called that perspective proof Weiner is a good lawyer, calling him a “forceful articulator of nonsense.”
While the facts of the case are still disputed, almost everyone agreed that the case had profound impacts on how business is done in Annapolis.
Lobbying is more transparent in the capital now, said John Stierhoff, a government affairs lawyer.
Mandel, now a member of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, was universally hailed as a competent governor Friday and remains influential in Annapolis. But some close to the former governor say his legacy may take an irrevocable hit because of this case.
He “was shafted” by “a gross error,” said Al Figinski, who represented Mandel throughout his trial.