Reporting Mike Hellgren
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The prosecution rests in the misconduct trial of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. The defense is asking for the trial to be dismissed before it even starts its case.
Mike Hellgren brings us every development from the courtroom.
The defense says they are asking the judge to find that the prosecution’s case is not strong enough to support the charges. If not, the defense says its case will likely go through Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
County Executive John Leopold seemed in good spirits as he left court Thursday afternoon despite new testimony from the former supervisor of the executive protection unit, who said he left the job because “stress was getting to me. I was losing sleep. It was affecting my health,” Sgt. Timothy Phelan testified.
Phelan recounted one incident after Leopold was accused of vandalizing his political opponent Joanna Conti’s campaign sign where Leopold became nervous and squirmed in his seat after learning he may have been caught on surveillance video.
Phelan also showed the judge on a map where he received dozens of overtime hours running Leopold’s errands and taking him to lunch.
He said he was paid overtime on the weekends just to deliver newspapers to Leopold’s girlfriend’s home by 7 a.m. with the ads removed, then take him to lunches at the Double T Diner and Golden Corral.
He said he would drive Leopold in a county-owned white Ford Expedition police vehicle and Leopold mandated his campaign signs be kept in the back.
He testified that on one Saturday, Leopold asked him to get a sign out of the vehicle, but Leopold told him he would place it in the ground himself. He didn’t want the sergeant to put it in the ground.
Phelan recounted taking the county executive to a pet judging contest at Quiet Waters Park in May 2010. He testified Leopold wanted two members of the detail present because the county executive didn’t want to be bothered by his girlfriend Connie Casalena, who worked for the county’s parks department. This is the same girlfriend with whom other detail members testified Leopold would have sex with in a bowling alley parking lot while they kept guard.
“He wanted us to be sure Connie didn’t speak to him,” Phelan told the judge. “She wasn’t a security threat at all.”
The county executive’s former aide Joan Harris calls it outrageous.
“Basically, that’s what they were, his servants to try to keep his girlfriends away from each other, to do his laundry, to pick up a sandwich. It’s ludicrous, and it’s wrong, ” Harris said.
The defense contends the operating procedures for the executive protection unit were not specific and were not just intended to protect the county executive but also to run his errands.
Phelan testified he understood that to be the case. He said he also approved overtime for other members of the detail when he was a supervisor.
The defense argued going to the Double T Diner was part of the county executive’s job. Leopold’s attorney said he would conduct community meetings there, but Phelan testified “to me, it looked like he was just having lunch.”
Sgt. Phelan testified there were no specific rules for the unit other than to “keep the county executive happy.”
The prosecution says Leopold wasted thousands of taxpayer dollars misusing his security detail, saying Leopold even had security pick up campaign donation checks.
The prosecutor presented a new document that had standard operating procedures for protecting dignitaries for the executive protection detail. It said they are not required to run personal errands for them. Leopold’s defense argues the county executive is not a dignitary.
Also, a representative of the State Board of Elections testified about the mechanics of reporting campaign donations.
Stephen Reigle, the treasurer for Leopold’s campaign took the stand after lunch. He confirmed several specific donations that went into Leopold’s campaign account. The prosecutor contends members of the executive protection unit picked up these donations while on the job, which he believes is illegal.
Sgt. Rodney Gettman was the next witness. He’s part of the security staff at Arundel Medical Center, where Leopold was hospitalized.
He said Leopold asked to be placed on a VIP list, where he was on restricted access. He said that meant no one was supposed to know Leopold was there. He would be taken in separate entrances and if someone called asking for him, that person would be told he was not in the hospital. The prosecution contends overtime was used for two officers to keep Leopold’s girlfriend away after she showed up there.
Next up was Andrea Fulton who works for county employee services. She confirmed overtime records for several members of Leopold’s security detail.
On Wednesday, prosecutors called Erik Robey, Leopold’s chief of staff, to the stand. Robey testified that Leopold asked a member of his executive protection detail to make sure one of his campaign signs was not destroyed.
He also testified the campaign produced a robocall in the county executive’s office, and that Cpl. Howard Brown–a member of the detail who testified extensively Tuesday– delivered a dossier on Leopold’s opponent, Joanna Conti, to his desk. He said he didn’t remember if Leopold discussed it with him beforehand. But says he informed Leopold that most of what was in the file “was information I’d found earlier.”
Robey testified he “believed in what we were doing and believed in the administration” but none of Leopold’s county-paid staff members was forced to participate in the campaign. Many volunteered, he said.
That differs from what some members of Leopold’s security detail have testified: they did campaign work because Leopold ordered them to do so or because they feared losing their jobs or being transferred if they didn’t. Some said they were concerned Leopold would see them as disloyal.
The defense believes conversations between the security detail and Leopold are confidential, but the judge has been allowing the testimony.
“It’s a disgrace,” said Karla Hamner, former county employee. “It’s sickening. I can’t say enough about it.”
Leopold’s guilt or innocence will soon be in the hands of Judge Dennis Sweeney, as Leopold decided not to have a jury decide his fate.
He faces up to five years in jail if found guilty.