Anne Arundel council meeting on Leopold ouster -- Gazette.Net







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Sentencing for Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold has been set for 10 a.m. March 14 in the county’s Circuit Court in Annapolis.

The Anne Arundel County Council is slated to vote Monday on legislation designed to ensure that Leopold is removed from office. The council’s meeting comes after Leopold’s conviction Tuesday afternoon on two counts of misconduct in office.

Under Anne Arundel County’s charter, the County Council may declare a vacancy under certain conditions, including if the executive is convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude or, as Leopold was, of misfeasance or malfeasance in office.

Anne Arundel’s voters approved the provisions as an amendment to the county’s charter in November.

Under those provisions, five of seven council members would have to vote to declare the executive’s office vacant. By law, the council would select from the same political party as Leopold, a Republican, an interim county executive to complete his term, which ends in December 2014.

Maryland voters in November also approved an amendment to the state’s Constitution that provides for suspending a public official upon conviction of a crime. Before that change took effect, state law removed officials from office upon sentencing.

Questions have been raised about how and whether changes in the law apply in the case of Leopold, who was indicted before the amendments took effect.

Meanwhile, Anne Arundel County Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond is acting county executive under an executive order that Leopold signed Monday, two days before his conviction.

On Tuesday, Judge Dennis M. Sweeney issued a guilty verdict for Leopold’s misuse of his security officers for political and campaign activities. Sweeney also found Leopold guilty of using his security detail and other county employees for personal purposes while they were on duty and paid by the county. Leopold had opted for a trial before the judge in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Sweeney castigated Leopold in announcing his verdict, saying that the county executive’s use of employees to do functions like empty his urinary catheter bag was “abusive and outrageous and exceeded any right that any employer, either private or public, would have to demand of employees who were hired to perform office or security work.”

The judge also accused Leopold of demonstrating an “overbearing arrogance and sense of entitlement that is unworthy of someone supposed to be a public servant.”

Sweeney also found Leopold not guilty of two counts of misusing county officers to conceal his relationship with a county employee.

Leopold’s lawyers have not said whether the verdict will be appealed.

State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt declined to comment on what he would recommend as a sentence. But common law offenses such as those Leopold was convicted of carry open-ended sentences that are up to the judge’s discretion.

Personal use of employees

As the verdict was read, Leopold looked ashen. The judge’s decision came shortly after closing arguments concluded Tuesday.

Leopold was accused of misusing his county-paid security detail and scheduler, while on duty, to run personal errands, hide an affair with a county employee from his live-in girlfriend and assist in his 2010 re-election bid.

Leopold directed his security officers to pick up and deposit campaign contributions, distribute campaign signs for his county staff to install, maintain the signs and compile dossiers on political opponents, according to the indictment.

“Most of the time, Leopold was sitting back in the office [and] this activity was not remotely related to the protection of Mr. Leopold,” Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough told Sweeney, near the end of more than four hours of final arguments.

Lawyers for Leopold argued that police officers and other employees who accompany or work closely with elected leaders are commonly called on to assist with a variety of errands, including some that are personal.

His lawyers said they did not challenge some witnesses who testified that they were required or expected to do tasks they disagreed with, including emptying a urinary catheter bag Leopold used after back surgery, because the witnesses were not required to do the tasks and didn’t express dissatisfaction.

Those employees acted out of “compassion” because Leopold was in “excruciating pain,” defense attorney Bruce Marcus said.

County workers were entitled to campaign for Leopold, if they chose, and Leopold was entitled to have security accompany him, but not in a wrongful manner, McDonough said.

Leopold was “orchestrating a process” to carry on his affair that had county workers fielding phone calls from his lover and patrolling at a distance while he had trysts with her in parking lots, McDonough said.

“When they are circling around there’s not a protective aspect — they are protecting him from political embarrassment,” Davitt told Sweeney.

One of Leopold’s political opponents, Joanna Conti, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for county executive in 2010, announced after the verdict that she plans to seek the seat again in 2014.

Conti said she was “very pleased” with the verdict. “It restored my faith,” she said.

Leopold didn’t answer questions about whether he would resign. Marcus said the county executive’s defense team will develop for the court, before sentencing, a “fuller picture of Mr. Leopold as to his public service.”