Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Former school board member seeks to have trial dismissed

Lawyer says Thomas was not given enough time to find a new lawyer

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The attorney for Nathaniel B. Thomas, a former Prince George's school board member charged with a third-degree sex offense involving a former student, sought to have the trial thrown out Wednesday on another technicality.

Thomas' lawyer, Bruce L. Marcus of Greenbelt, argued Wednesday - the day jury selection was expected to begin - that court rules were violated by not giving Thomas enough time to find a new lawyer.

Thomas, 26, was elected to an at-large school board seat in November 2006, and was accused early last year of taking an 18-year-old student on a convention trip to San Francisco without permission from the student's parents. An investigation into the trip revealed the alleged relationship in 2005 with a different student, who was 15 at the time.

Thomas denied he had a sexual relationship with a minor. He was charged May 4 and resigned from office in June.

Thomas' trial was initially slated for Nov. 26 but Marcus pointed out at Prince George's County Circuit Court in Upper Marlboro on the day jury selection was to begin that prosecutors filed an incorrect address for the location where Thomas allegedly had sex with the student he taught while at Forestville Military Academy.

The judge threw out the case, and Thomas was re-indicted and arraigned Nov. 30. The trial was then set for Dec. 5, but Thomas argued that he needed more time to get money for a new lawyer and the trial was delayed until April 2.

Marcus, continuing to represent Thomas, argued that the short time between the arraignment and the Dec. 5 trial date violated Thomas' right to find an attorney and prepare for the court case.

Prosecutors said the trial was set for Dec. 5 because Thomas' right to a speedy trial was in danger. A trial must begin within 180 days of indictments, according to court rules. If the trial were not held before Dec. 8, prosecutors said, those rules would have been violated.

“What happened here seemed to disenfranchise Mr. Thomas,“ Marcus said. “Mr. Thomas was put in a very unfortunate position. ... The defendant ends up being on the short end of the stick.“

William D. Missouri, the county's administrative judge, said since the trial was delayed until this month, Thomas had time to prepare for the case.

“If there was a prejudice here, I think it was in favor of the defendant and not against him,“ Missouri said.

Marcus also objected that prosecutors introduced a transcript of an interview with the alleged victim Tuesday, only one day before the trial was to start.

“I have not had an opportunity to go through this with my client like I normally would,“ Marcus said.

The trial is expected to last about three days.

E-mail Dennis Carter at dcarter@gazette.net.