Reporting Mike Hellgren
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)—There was a sudden twist in day two of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold’s misconduct trial. Just as lawyers narrowed down the pool of jurors, Leopold asked for the judge to decide his fate instead.
Mike Hellgren has been following every development from the courtroom in Annapolis.
Just a judge, no jury. It was a surprise, but it could be a savvy move for the county executive.
Here’s why: over the summer, the judge expressed some misgivings about the indictment, saying he had trouble with some of the concepts in it. He said the state prosecutor was walking a fine line. The county executive has contended that there’s no law saying how he can or can’t use his security detail.
Leopold and his defense team refused to say anything about their sudden bombshell move in court.
It comes after lawyers questioned hundreds of potential jurors and were close to seating the final 12. They were all quickly released.
“I guess that’s his right to do that. Whatever decision he’s good with he did that,” said Christy Winterson, prospective juror.
“The man is accused of something, and he needs a fair trial. The thing will be presented in court,” said Bill Moore, prospective juror.
The decision to do away with the jury is irreversible. The judge put Leopold under oath and asked him if he understood the decision he was making. The county executive said he did and that the decision was his and his alone.
Leopold has power in Anne Arundel County. The state prosecutor alleges he misused his employees, requiring his police detail to keep files on enemies, keep his girlfriends apart and even empty his urine during a hospital stay.
One man considered for the jury believes the county executive made the right choice letting the judge decide.
“Leaving the interpretation of the law to a bunch of citizens I think was taking a chance rather than having the judge who is more familiar with the law and the procedures and the duties of the police department,” said Gerry Marinakis, prospective juror.
Leopold’s fate will rest with Judge Dennis Sweeney. He’s retired from Howard County and best known for presiding over former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s corruption trial.
One thing is certain, without a jury this case will move along at a much faster pace. It was supposed to last 10 days.
Leopold faces up to five years in jail and fines if convicted.
Opening arguments start Friday morning. Count on WJZ to follow every development in the county executive’s court battle.