Judge dismisses Montgomery suit over police training course

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 11, 2010

Montgomery County officials were so stung by criticism over a tuition assistance program that they filed a groundless lawsuit against a police officer to recover more than $400,000, a judge said as he dismissed the suit this week.

"There was an amount of embarrassment at some point that caused the county to bring this action," Circuit Judge Terrence J. McGann said from the bench Wednesday.

At issue was a private company run by Montgomery police officer Aaron Bailey that offered tactical and shooting training to other law enforcement officers. The course fees were paid from the county's tuition assistance program. When the officers completed the course, they were given a chance to buy a deeply discounted weapon for their own use, such as a Glock semiautomatic for $99 that can retail for about five times that much.

The course was part of a larger tuition assistance program that became controversial last year. County employees were found to have used the program to take courses such as "Bible Doctrines" and "Life on the Down Low." Government officials acknowledged that they did not have proper oversight over the program, which was the subject of a critical report from the county's inspector general.

On March 3, the county government sued Bailey and the training company, Applied Sciences for Public Safety, for fraud, saying that they used government money to subsidize the gun purchases, and the guns were an enticement to get more officers to take the courses.

The county demanded $408,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages against Bailey.

At the time, Bailey declined to comment. But in court filings, his lawyer, Charles S. Rand, asked that the matter be dismissed and filed a counterclaim, seeking more than $500,000 from the county, in part because the county put Bailey in a bad light.

"The county filed its complaint in bad faith and without substantial justification in an effort to deflect clearly anticipated criticism aimed at the responsible county officials . . . and to attempt to preserve their reputations in the upcoming elections in November 2010," Rand wrote. [Bailey and his company] thereby became the scapegoats for the county's egregious mismanagement of taxpayer monies."

The counterclaim remains active, Rand said Thursday.

He declined to name the county officials he referred to in his filing. The tuition assistance program was run out the county's personnel office, which reports to County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Leggett, said Thursday that county attorneys who filed the lawsuit were not motivated by embarrassment or politics.

"We're motivated by getting to the bottom of this, and getting our money back," Lacefield said, adding that officials will "review our options" to try to make that happen.

"We do not agree with the judge's opinion. We think it was a wrongheaded opinion," Lacefield said.

The opinion was reported Thursday by the Washington Examiner. McGann's ruling came after an hour-long hearing Wednesday.

Known for his wit on the bench and heavy sentences in criminal cases, McGann said the civil claim had no standing to go forward -- no "privity of contract" between Bailey and the county, among other issues. The county decided to pay for courses and never said that the courses were inferior, McGann said.

"If the county feels they got duped, or they feel embarrassed, or they feel they shouldn't have to pay it, well, that's their fault," McGann said. "That's not the defendant's fault. I'm not suggesting that they should feel that way. For purposes of this hearing, I am going to assume that these men got quality courses and are better law enforcement officers for it, and that our county is safer now for having gone to this course. And I'm also going to assume that they got a discount on a gun, and we want law enforcement officers to have guns. It helps to fight bad guys."

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