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
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
“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