I have three matters for follow-up today, starting with the case of Schifanelli v. Jourdak, in which an Eastern Shore attorney, now the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor of Maryland, claims she was defamed by an activist for racial justice.
Gordana Schifanelli, running mate of Trump-endorsed gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, alleged she was defamed by Mary Ella Jourdak during an ugly battle two years ago in Queen Anne’s County between angry parents and Andrea Kane, the county’s first Black superintendent of schools.
Recap: After the murder-by-cop of George Floyd in May 2020, Kane wrote a letter to parents calling for dialogue on racism and voicing support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
Outraged by this — because, after all, why should students talk about racism when there is absolutely no racism anywhere? — Schifanelli criticized Kane. She started a Facebook group (later banned for violating Facebook standards, according to The New York Times) so more parents could criticize her.
Jourdak, on the other hand, was part of a group that stood up for the superintendent. During said battle, Schifanelli claimed Jourdak defamed her on Twitter and Facebook. So Schifanelli sued, asserting harm to reputation and emotional distress. Last month, during the week of Maryland’s primary election, there was a three-day trial in Centreville. There was testimony. There were exhibits of social media comments, some of them racist, a lot of it the overheated rhetoric of overwrought parents.
Schifanelli and Cox won the Republican primary but Schifanelli and Schifanelli — her attorney husband, Marc, represented her — lost their court defamation case. Marc Schifanelli then asked Judge Lynn Knight for a new trial. The judge denied the motion.
Will there be further appeals? We don’t know yet, but I’m sure we’ve not heard the last of the Schifanellis.
It was one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen in a Baltimore courtroom — a prison inmate with terminal cancer in handcuffs and chains.
At 64, Robert Smith had been in Maryland prisons for nearly 40 years, serving a life sentence for a murder he claimed he did not commit. Ten months before his visit to Judge Audrey J.S. Carrion’s courtroom, a doctor found that the liver cancer discovered two years earlier had advanced to “terminal and incurable.” His advocates had tried to get Smith out of prison, but their appeals had been denied.
Carrion, however, agreed to consider reducing his sentence to the time he had served.
So, on a Monday morning last June, correctional officers drove Smith to Baltimore from Hagerstown and escorted him into the courtroom in handcuffs and chains.
I sat there thinking about how we do things in this country and in this state. We had Democratic governors who for a couple of decades refused to approve parole for men and women serving life sentences — even if the Maryland Parole Commission had cleared them for release after 30 or 40 or more years of incarceration. Smith’s case seemed more egregious: Even terminal cancer, a death sentence, could not get him home. It was impossible to imagine how justice would be diminished by a small act of mercy for Robert Smith.
But then Carrion agreed to listen.
“Please let me go home to be with my family with the time I have left,” Smith said, his voice barely audible.
With the state supporting Smith’s release, the judge readily granted the request. Smith’s wife and son took him home.
Robert Smith managed to live 13 more months and spend valuable time with his family. His longtime attorney, Nancy Forster, reported his death on Friday. “I am so glad that Robert’s greatest fear, that he would die in jail, did not come to pass,” Forster said.
One last word on Trey Mancini, who was traded last week from the Orioles to the Houston Astros in return for some pitching prospects:
Despite what all the experts say, it was more than OK for Baltimore fans to have been upset about Mancini’s departure.
Those who say the trade was a great move by Orioles general manager Mike Elias seem oblivious to how premature that declaration is. Their confidence in Elias is naturally anchored in the Orioles’ wonderfully surprising success this season. The long and widely ridiculed rebuild appears to be paying off so, of course, numerous skeptics have become Elias true-believers. That’s to be expected. But what gets tiresome is the smug told-ya-so of the nudniks who seem to think there’s no longer a place for emotional attachments to professional baseball players.
Well, here’s some news you can use: As long as there’s baseball, fans will have emotional attachments to certain players. Baseball is a series of stories, and life is a journey; those of us who love baseball take its stories with us. Trey Mancini wasn’t just a tall, lean outfielder who could play first base and be a productive hitter. He wasn’t a set of numbers. He was a story, and we followed the story and became attached to the story. And so some of us got really ticked off that Elias suddenly ended the story — and we didn’t care to hear about the calculus.
So, to any fans who felt lectured to or mocked for expressing dismay over that trade, I say: Don’t listen to the nudniks. Trey is gone. We’ll get over it. But it was OK to grieve first. You had to.