John Leopold found guilty of misconduct
By Annys Shin,
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was convicted Tuesday of misconduct in office after a lurid trial that featured testimony about his secret sexual trysts and county employees forced to drain his catheter bag even though he could have done it himself.
Ultimately, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney convicted Leopold of misusing his security detail and his scheduler to perform personal and political chores.
Sweeney described the behavior of the second-term Republican as “outrageous, egregious and wildly beyond” any authority he has as county executive and said his treatment of his scheduler, Patricia Medlin, in particular was “predatory and cruel.”
But Sweeney acquitted Leopold of a more serious charge of misappropriating funds. He also was acquitted of the more salacious charge of using his security detail to ferry him to sexual encounters with a county employee in a bowling alley’s parking lot and then helping him conceal the liaison from his live-in girlfriend. The judge said that the officers were required to guard Leopold regardless of the purpose of his trip, no matter how tawdry.
Still, the conviction will probably end a political career that has spanned more than 40 years and two states. Leopold represented the county in the House of Delegates for two decades before being elected county executive in 2006. He also was a state lawmaker in Hawaii and ran unsuccessfully there for governor.
Officials said the law mandates Leopold’s immediate removal from office as head of the state’s fourth-largest county. But even so, officials plan to use a provision in the county charter to ensure that he leaves. County Council Chairman Jerry Walker said that on Wednesday, he will introduce a bill for removal. The full council would then vote on it Monday. Five of the seven council members would have to consent in order for the bill to pass.
“It is a very sad situation we find ourselves in,” Walker said. “I am happy to see this part is behind us. We do have a government to run.”
John Hammond, Anne Arundel’s chief administrative officer, would serve as acting county executive, officials said.
Sweeney issued his verdicts after a two-week trial and after Leopold waived his right to a jury trial. No sentencing date has been set, but Sweeney’s options include probation, minor jail time and fines.
Leopold, 69, declined to comment after the trial. Emmet Davitt, the state prosecutor, also declined to comment.
Prosecutors portrayed Leopold as a bully who intimidated his employees into doing what he wanted, even if they thought it was wrong.
The trial’s most compelling testimony came from Medlin, 63, who described how several times a day over nearly a year, her boss would summon her to drain urine from his catheter bag. Leopold required the catheter after back surgery in February 2010.
Medlin cried as she detailed how she had to follow him into a restroom and get on her hands and knees to empty the urine into a coffee can kept under the sink. In early 2011, she became upset after seeing Leopold bend down to tie his shoelace, and she realized that he had been making her do it even though he was able to do it himself. The prosecution dubbed Leopold’s behavior as “catheter abuse.”
The defense chose not to cross-examine Medlin and did not dispute her account.
“He enjoyed it. That’s why he did it,” prosecutor Thomas M. McDonough said. “He picked on and sought out those who were in the weakest position, who were the most likely to accede to his demands.”
Two members of Leopold’s security detail also had to empty the urine bag, using another coffee can, which Leopold had them keep in the center console of their county-issued vehicle.
The defense argued that Leopold was an unorthodox politician who was self-reliant until he began suffering debilitating back pain in late 2009. They said that Leopold needed more help after the surgery, including with the catheter bag, and that the state prosecutor was trying to be an arbiter of morals.
“This is not an impeachment trial,” Leopold attorney Bruce Marcus said.
And yet the defense took pains to counter the prosecution’s image of Leopold as an imperious executive by describing him as “enigmatic” and “unorthodox.”
Throughout the trial, they contended that the protection officers did not think their activity was illegal until after Leopold called for an audit of their overtime pay in 2011.
Sweeney also found Leopold guilty of misconduct for using his protection officers to perform campaign work at taxpayers’ expense.
The judge said Leopold knew he was breaking the law when he had his security detail spend hours each day for several months, including on weekends, putting up campaign signs in people’s yards, checking on whether signs were still there and taking them down after the election.
Sweeney found that Leopold was also guilty of misconduct when he had a protection officer prepare dossiers on political rivals, including Democratic opponent Joanna Conti.
Leopold was cleared of some of the more headline-grabbing allegations. Two officers testified that after his encounters in the parking lot, Leopold would sometimes remark to them how great the sex was.
But Sweeney appeared to have been swayed by an argument made Friday by defense attorney Robert Bonsib, who questioned whether Leopold would have been prosecuted had he been “a married man who went home for a nooner with his wife.”
Sweeney had previously thrown out one count of misconduct, which stemmed from an allegation that Leopold had security officers drive him as he tore down an opponent’s campaign signs. Conti, whose signs were vandalized, was in the courtroom as the verdict was read.
Also present were two former Leopold employees, Joan Harris and Karla Hammond, who have each sued Leopold in federal court over his treatment of female employees.
Outside the courtroom, Hammond said she hoped that her suit would “gain momentum” because of the verdict.
Harris said she wanted the County Council to remove Leopold from office. “We need a leader with real integrity,” she said.
Steve Hendrix contributed to this report.