The Washington Post

In John Leopold trial, a case of misconduct vs. poor judgment

Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold waits before presenting the county's legislative package during a hearing earlier this month at the Lowe House Office Building. (Astrid Riecken/ The Washington Post)

One man’s misconduct is another man’s poor judgement.

That was the crux of the defense argument Friday in the misconduct trial of Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold. During a motions hearing, the defense contended that the charges against the two-term Republican are based on vague and arbitrary standards.

Anne Arundel Circuit Court Judge Dennis Sweeney responded by throwing out one count of misconduct. He said Leopold was acting as a private citizen when he rode around in a county car driven by his security detail and ripped out an opponent’s campaign signs.

The defense also took on the allegation that Leopold misused his security detail to ferry him to sexual encounters with a female county employee in a bowling alley parking lot at least twice a week, arguing that the protection officers’ job was to guard Leopold no matter where he went or why.

“What if he was a married man and went home for a nooner with his wife?” asked Robert Bonsib, an attorney for Leopold.

“Where is the line?” Bonsib asked repeatedly throughout the morning.

That will be for the judge to decide. Leopold waived his right to a jury trial.

Leopold, 69, was indicted on four counts of misconduct and one count of fraudulently misappropriating funds, which carries a sentence of up to five years.

The charges stem from events in 2010, when Leopold was having back problems and running for reelection. Prosecutors say Leopold misused his security detail, which is made up of county police, for personal and political chores, such as delivering newspapers and getting takeout, emptying a urine bag attached to his catheter, and putting up campaign signs.

The defense has said previously that Leopold had to rely on his security detail more after his back problems became debilitating in late 2009. Leopold’s back surgeon testified Friday that Leopold was in “writhing pain” before the surgery.

The defense said prosecutors had failed to show that Leopold intended to violate the law. His attorneys said that he did not know the officers were working overtime, and that even though the officers kept their superiors abreast of their activities, no one told Leopold any of the activity was criminal.

Prosecutor Thomas “Mike” McDonough said Leopold knew what he was doing was wrong. And although having a protection officer bring him a newspaper might not be a crime under normal circumstances, in Leopold’s case, it was part of a larger pattern, McDonough said.

“It’s the cumulative effect that amounts to abuse,” he said.

Annys Shin has been a staff writer at the Washington Post since 2004.

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