By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 23, 2009
When Raejean French worked as assistant to then-Del. John R. Leopold, he often had some unusual requests: She said he would ask her to track down women he had met at community and political gatherings and persuade them to meet with him or call him on a private line in his office.
"It got to the point where sometimes he would have a name, sometimes he wouldn't," she said. "Sometimes he would just say, ' You know, that slim, blond woman who was wearing the green blouse.' "
French was one of two women who came forward yesterday to allege that Leopold, now the Anne Arundel county executive, engaged in inappropriate behavior with women he met through his political life. The other woman said Leopold badgered her for a date seven years ago after meeting her at an official function, even though she was married, had children and had rejected his advances repeatedly.
The latest allegations come as a complaint against him by a third woman, a former county employee, is pending with state and federal authorities and amid calls from the NAACP for the state prosecutor to investigate whether he harassed a fourth woman in the cafeteria of the county government headquarters last month.
"These claims are about things that supposedly happened a decade ago and have nothing to do with my job performance," Leopold (R) said yesterday through a spokesman. "No one has ever complained about my conduct until now. And I am deeply offended by the innuendoes printed about me."
French worked in Leopold's legislative office in 1999. On occasion, she said, Leopold would send notes or gifts to women, including lobbyists working in Annapolis. When that happened, he often wanted her to quiz the women: " 'Did she like the gift? What was her response? What was her tone of voice?' "
"If he didn't like the answers I got, he would call me at home and ask, 'Are you sure she said it this way? You must have gotten it wrong,' because the reaction wasn't always positive," French, 56, told The Washington Post in an interview.
Her allegations were first reported yesterday in the Annapolis newspaper the Capital. Leopold has dismissed the allegations as the work of his political adversaries. Through a spokesman, he said French had been fired from his legislative office.
French told The Post that she had voted for Leopold, had contributed to his political campaigns and has never worked for any of his political opponents. She said she was not fired from his legislative office; she quit.
"The things he had me do made me feel sick. I would hide and cry in the ladies' room just to get away from it," she said. "I couldn't do anything about it. He signed my timesheet and paycheck."
French said she came forward after hearing about other women's allegations involving Leopold and said, "I'm doing this because I believe there are other women out there right now who are afraid, and I hope this will help them be able to talk."
In a separate interview, Terri Owens said she met Leopold through her work as community affairs coordinator for the cable company Millennium Digital Media and served in community groups with him. She said she ran into Leopold in a library parking lot seven years ago, and he asked her to lunch. She declined and told him that she was married.
A few days later, she said, Leopold called her home number and left a message with her son, who was 13 at the time. The son, Jason Clarke, 20, recalled the conversation as being short. "He just asked for my mom, never mentioned a reason why he was calling," he said. "All he would say is, 'Well, tell her I called.' "
The next morning, before she arrived at work at 9 a.m., Leopold had called her office repeatedly within the span of half an hour, Owens, 45, said. "By the time I walked in, it had gotten to the point where the people in my office were asking me, 'Who is this guy?' "
Owens told her boss, Sharon Slotterback, what was happening and had Slotterback sit in her office while she called Leopold on speakerphone.
"I told him not to call anymore," Owens said. "He said, 'I just thought we could go to lunch.' And it went like that for a while. I'd say no, and he'd insist, until I said: 'Don't contact me unless there's some issue with your constituents. And if that's the case, come to my office if you need to talk.' "
Owens has since retired from the cable company. Slotterback, who works for a different company, confirmed that Owens went to her with concerns. "She was creeped out by him," Slotterback said. "She never filed a formal complaint, because it stopped after a while."
Owens said she has no connection to any political adversary of Leopold's. She said she is an active Republican who has volunteered for the state party.
In the past month, two other women have accused Leopold of improper behavior. Marvinese Harris, a state employee, said Leopold asked her for a date repeatedly during an encounter at the county building cafeteria April 30. She filed a complaint with the state Department of Human Resources, which Leopold said was dismissed.
State officials would not comment on the complaint. Harris, who is African American, also complained to the NAACP, which has asked the state prosecutor to investigate Leopold.
Two weeks ago, Karla Hamner, who once worked as Leopold's county spokeswoman, filed a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She said Leopold once grabbed her by the arms in his office and yelled at her about her hair.
The allegations are the latest episodes in which Leopold's sexual behavior has been questioned. On Jan. 30, an anonymous caller to Anne Arundel County's 911 center complained that people were having sex in a car in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Annapolis. The caller directed officers to Leopold's county car. Police determined the report to be "unfounded," but Leopold has not said what he was doing in the car.
Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.