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Judge Grants Leopold Acquittal For Campaign Sign Theft In Misconduct Trial

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) –Testimony is over for the week in the trial of Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold. The judge tossed out one count against him, as the defense pushed for all the charges to be dropped.

Mike Hellgren reports.

One of the judge’s biggest questions is where do you draw the line from simply bad behavior and illegal misconduct?

After a bruising battle between County Executive John Leopold’s defense team and state prosecutors, the judge acquitted Leopold of a charge that he stole an opponent’s campaign sign. But he let the rest stand.

Still, Lewis Bracy, who says Leopold used county funds to create an enemy file on him, feels the prosecution is not strong enough.

“I’m not impressed with them,” Bracy said. “They just don’t seem to be aggressive enough. I am more impressed with, I hate to say it, his defense attorneys.”

Judge Dennis Sweeney announced he has problems with the prosecution’s argument: that the county executive’s use of his taxpayer-funded employees to conduct campaign duties and run errands is misconduct.

“When does it become a crime? When you decide it is?” Judge Sweeney asked prosecutors. “Should we have public officials worried every time they make a judgment the state prosecutor’s office is going to judge them? We don’t want public officials to be cowering in their offices.”

Prosecutors argued Leopold knew what he was doing was wrong and repeatedly stepped way over the line. But his defense argued their client is not a cop, and no one ever told him no.

He said a conviction would require Leopold be removed from office if at least five members of the county council voted to do so. He called that “draconian.”

“You just don’t jump one day and say ‘It smells. It’s boorish. Therefore, it’s criminal.’ That’s what is being done repeatedly here,” said Robert Bonsib, defense attorney.

Bonsib said while Leopold is being accused of wrongdoing by having police pick up his newspapers and take him to lunch, his predecessor, Janet Owens, used her detail for many hours to drive her around the state during her campaign for Maryland comptroller. While she reimbursed the county for mileage, she never did so for time.

Bonsib said Owens was never prosecuted for that and wondered “Where’s the line?” He says the executive protection unit members were “defacto security and aides.”

The defense is calling it a bad boss crime. Bonsib says if Leopold is a bad boss, he should be voted out of office, not charged with misconduct.

The judge pointed out there are restrictions on using employees for political purposes. He said there are similar restrictions for members of the General Assembly where the county executive served for years.

Bonsib said Leopold is an adult man, and it’s not a crime to have sex with his girlfriend.

“What if Leopold was a married man and went home to have a nooner with his wife, would that be considered a crime?” He says the emptying of the urine “is being blown out of proportion.”

He said “no one was required to do any of this…They haven’t proven it. Not a scintilla.”

Bonsib said Leopold was acting as a “private citizen” not as the county executive when he tore down competitor Joanna Conti’s campaign signs. Bonsib also argued the signs were not Conti’s personal property. He also argued “throwing them down and not removing them is not theft.”

Judge Sweeny agreed, saying he threw out the misconduct by theft charge because he didn’t feel Leopold was acting in his official capacity at the time.

There was one defense witness Friday. That was Leopold’s physician, Dr. Lloyd Edwin Bans Jr.

There will be more testimony to come on Monday. The defense plans to wrap up their arguments by Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

Leopold’s guilt or innocence will be in the hands of Judge Sweeney, as Leopold decided not to have a jury decide his fate.

He faces up to five years in jail if found guilty.

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