ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ)— The Anne Arundel County Executive’s misconduct trial heats up. Opening arguments were heard with strong words from prosecutors and the defense. Now the prosecution’s witnesses are taking the stand.
Mike Hellgren has more.
The county executive’s defense says the accusations may be unseemly and he may lack some social graces, but John Leopold did nothing illegal.
There was a sudden twist in 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.
In court Friday, the state prosecutor is saying Leopold abused and misused powers and clearly violated public trust. The prosecutor says people feared Leopold’s wrath or losing their jobs. Leopold is also accused of using county workers for campaign duties.
Leopold has power in Anne Arundel County. The state prosecutor has alleged 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.
Prosecutors have said officers would stand guard multiple times while Leopold had sex in bowling alley parking lots.
The first prosecution witness was Patricia Medlin, Leopold’s assistant and scheduler. She said Leopold ordered various county employees to put up campaign signs.
“I was afraid to say no. I was afraid he wouldn’t think I was loyal, and I would lose my job,” she said.
Medlin testified that she was asked to talk to Leopold’s girlfriends about their behavior and to “protect” him from one girlfriend who worked for the county.
Leopold also told Medlin he would “require” her assistance with his catheter bag. She said he said, “You don’t have a problem with that?” She says she did it because she was afraid she would lose her job.
She says she emptied his urine approximately three times every weekday for 10 months.
Medlin started crying on the stand over the experience.
“I was afraid, so afraid I would lose my job. I’d seen it happen before,” she said.
Another former county employee who’s now suing Leopold says there’s an atmosphere of fear.
“It’s a very emotional feeling for someone. I mean, she’s a single woman, she’s been in the county a long time and she’s a good person. Just watching her have to relive it was very difficult for me,” said Joan Harris.
Bruce Marcus, Leopold’s lawyer, objected to many of the questions asked to Medlin, but Medlin was dismissed with no questions from the defense.
Former County Executive Janet Owens also testified for the prosecution. The executive protection unit was created under her 15 years ago.
She took the stand and said she never asked them to do political activities. She said the unit was never intended to be used for personal errands.
“It is critical that this be resolved for Anne Arundel County. It’s time for the county to get back to business and this stain to go away,” Owens said.
The executive protection detail was created under the watch of former Police Chief Thomas Shanahan. He also said is was never intended to be used for personal errands or round-the-clock service.
Also for the prosecution was Lt. Katherine Goodwin, who was on Owens’ detail. She testified she only got Owens cigarettes occasionally, but no other personal errands or campaign activity. She admitted there were no written standards for the unit.
Meanwhile, Leopold’s defense team has countered that the allegations came from disgruntled employees. They say there’s nothing illegal about how Leopold used employees.
The defense says Leopold’s actions were done with the knowledge of police. They say Leopold never tried to hide anything and his conduct was the worst kept secret in Anne Arundel County because it wasn’t a secret at all.
The defense claims the executive protection detail is there to protect the county executive. They say duties of the executive protection unit can’t be left to a whim and should be spelled out in detail. They say the indictment was written to evoke emotion with salacious details.
Leopold’s defense team says the county executive was beset with health problems that would have sidelined most others and devoted his life to public service. They are showing the judge slides of Leopold’s spine, talking about his back and crippling neurological problems. They say Leopold couldn’t control his bladder because of poor muscle tone. They say Leopold is an anomaly, not slick, idiosyncratic or self-reliant.
His attorney, Bruce Marcus, called him a one-man band. He says allegations may show a lack of social grace on Leopold’s part, but they do not rise to the level of criminal misconduct. He says they are tawdry, tabloid allegations, but nothing illegal.
He says Leopold never intended to do anything wrong. Marcus says Leopold feared political adversaries finding out about his medical problems and trusted people to help him. He says that trust was perhaps misplaced.
Hellgren reports Leopold is actively listening and taking notes in court.
The defense concluded its opening arguments by saying Leopold thought his executive protection detail was working with him in a common effort. They say Leopold gave up pay raises, was frugal and never stole any county money. They showed overtime pay slips for protection detail, and Leopold never signed any of them.
They say he’s an unconventional politican, but not guilty.
Meanwhile, it will be just a judge, not a jury, deciding Leopold’s fate. It was a surprise, but it could be a savvy move for the county executive.
Here’s why: over the summer, the judge has 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.
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.
“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.
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.
Count on WJZ to follow every development in the county executive’s court battle.