January 23, 2013

A JUDGE WILL DECIDE whether Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is guilty of misconduct in office and fraudulently using taxpayers’ money and, if so, whether he should serve prison time. On the separate matter of whether Mr. Leopold has used stupendous misjudgment, behaved boorishly and played the part of petty tyrant and unprincipled buffoon, the verdict is already in: Guilty.

Mr. Leopold is one of the most prominent Republicans in Maryland, which may partly explain why the GOP, already badly marginalized, appears to be losing ground in the state. The charges against him, contained in an indictment last year, include using his taxpayer-funded security detail to run trivial political errands; shuttle him to sexual trysts with a lover; and run interference between the lover (a county employee) and Mr. Leopold’s live-in girlfriend.

In particular, Mr. Leopold is accused of paying thousands of dollars in overtime to the police officers on his personal security detail to carry out these tasks, which were decidedly more about Mr. Leopold’s personal and political business than the people’s.

One question, which we have previously raised , is why Mr. Leopold, who represents a mainly suburban jurisdiction not known for political violence, should need a security detail in the first place. (The answer is: He didn’t. It was removed last summer.)

Another question is whether Mr. Leopold should resign from office. We believe he should.

At his trial, now underway in Circuit Court in Annapolis, his lawyer has argued that there were no explicit rules governing the conduct of Mr. Leopold’s police bodyguards and that he broke no law or regulation in having them install campaign signs, compile dossiers on his political rivals or deposit campaign checks. Nor was he out of bounds by having his police detail and an aide empty urine from a catheter that Mr. Leopold wore following surgery, the defense maintains.

Yet at the core of the charges against Mr. Leopold is a portrait of a longtime elected official with a sense of entitlement so inflated that he can no longer distinguish between his own personal and political druthers, on the one hand, and the ethical and appropriate use of public employees and funds, on the other. That lapse goes beyond the misjudgment and boorishness that the defense concedes; it suggests that Mr. Leopold is unfit for the office he holds.

Now in his second term as county executive, and having previously served in both the Maryland and Hawaii legislatures, Mr. Leopold should know better. After all, he has often campaigned as a voice for financial austerity and railed against squandering public funds.

But based on the indictment against him and the testimony thus far in his trial, he talked a good game while acting another way entirely. It’s time for Mr. Leopold to go.