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John Leopold ripped out her campaign signs, political opponent says

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Joanna Conti faced John Leopold again Wednesday, only this time it was in a courtroom, not at the ballot box.

Conti, a Democrat who unsuccessfully challenged Leopold for Anne Arundel county executive in 2010, testified briefly at his misconduct trial in Annapolis.

Dressed in a bright, sea foam colored suit, she looked on as State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt lifted up a soiled Conti campaign sign that her Republican opponent allegedly ripped out of the ground and threw into the woods during the 2010 campaign.

When Davitt asked whether she recognized it, she said yes and added, “I’ve never seen one quite that dirty.”

Leopold, 69, allegedly used his security detail to drive him as he removed Conti campaign signs. That is one of the many tasks that authorities say the leader of the state’s fourth-largest county had protection officers and other employees do for his personal and political benefit. He faces four counts of misconduct and one count of fraudulently misappropriating county funds, which carries a sentence of up to five years. If convicted, the County Council could vote to remove him from office.

Conti was the last of a string of witnesses who appeared Wednesday and largely echoed previous testimony about Leopold’s use of protection officers to put up signs, collect campaign contribution checks, and compile dossiers on rivals, including Conti. The officers also allegedly picked up drying cleaning, ferried him to sexual encounters and drained the urine bag attached to a catheter he wore after having back surgery in 2010.

Cpl. Mark Walker, who also testified Wednesday, was the second officer to say that he drove Leopold to a bowling alley parking lot for sexual encounters with a female county employee.

Walker was less explicit than the earlier witness about conversations with Leopold after those trysts, thanks to objections raised by Leopold’s attorneys. Asked by prosecutors whether he ever heard Leopold say, “That was great sex,” Walker said, “Yes.”

The defense Wednesday challenged the prosecution’s portrayal of Leopold as an imperious executive mistreating his underlings. Instead, they cast the relationship between Leopold and those guarding him as more of a “locker room exchange” among “men of age, exchanging personal stories and recollections.”

During cross examination, Walker, a 24-year veteran of the police force, acknowledged that he and Leopold would swap stories and that he once showed Leopold an inappropriate photo of a woman whom Walker had been involved with.

The defense has argued that Leopold had to rely on his security detail for more help after his back problems became debilitating toward the end of 2009.

After the first of two back surgeries in 2010, Walker said he was out picking up Leopold’s dry cleaning when he got a frantic call from the county executive. Leopold asked him to return to the hospital where he was recuperating because Constance Casalena, a county employee Leopold was allegedly seeing, had tried to visit him.

Hospital staff turned Casalena away. Nonetheless, Walker said, from then on Leopold had two officers at the hospital with him to keep Casalena at bay and to conceal his relationship with her from Leopold’s live-in girlfriend.

After Leopold was discharged, Walker testified, his boss had him drain the urine bag attached to his catheter about 40 times.

Bruce Marcus, Leopold’s defense attorney, asked Walker whether he ever told Leopold that he did not want to empty his urine bag. Walker, who left the security detail in 2011, said no.

At one point, Marcus asked Walker, “You were saddened when you were no longer on the detail, isn’t that right?”

Walker fell silent for a minute. “I wouldn’t say that,” he said.

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