Reporting Mike Hellgren
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold’s defense rests in his misconduct trial. On Friday, the judge tossed out one count against him, as the defense pushed for all the charges to be dropped. Then, on Monday, the defense wrapped up its case and again presented arguments on the defense motion to acquit. The judge denied those motions to acquit.
Mike Hellgren reports closing arguments will be held Tuesday.
The trial resumed Monday with Dr. Timothy Burke, a neurosurgeon who treated the county executive and talked about his debilitating back condition.
Andrea Fulton took the witness stand next. She works for the county and handles personnel issues. She also testified for the prosecution.
Monday morning, Fulton said Leopold wrote a check back to the county for his raise, when the county was having financial problems due to the economic downturn. The defense is trying to refute allegations the county executive was misusing county funds.
She also testified about negotiations for police unions and other employees that reduced salary increases for them. The defense is arguing police were upset about the reductions and this motivated the testimony of Leopold’s security detail.
“We collectively had been changing Mr. Leopold’s pee bag for years,” said O’Brien Atkinson, FOP. “It seems the response was, `Well, make sure you keep him happy.’”
Fulton also testified she supervised inquiries into the overtime of Cpl. Walker and Cpl. Brown, two members of Leopold’s security detail who testified for the prosecution. The defense contends they were upset at the county executive because their overtime was being investigated.
After that the defense rested. The defense put in a new motion to acquit because they said there was insufficient evidence.
“The actions that were taken were completely irresponsible, immoral and destructive to county resources,” said Karla Hamner.
Bruce Marcus, one of Leopold’s lawyers, argued they don’t dispute many of the facts, but they simply say there was no crime committed. They claimed the evidence does not support a crime.
Misconduct by a fiduciary:
The defense argued the county executive did not have direct control over the money and the overtime and thus was not a fiduciary, so he should be found not guilty.
The defense again claimed misconduct as a crime is too vague.
“It’s very hard for anyone to get their hands around,” Marcus told the judge.
The prosecution also presented arguments on the defense motion to acquit, but the judge ruled to have the charges stand for now.
Closing arguments will be held Tuesday.
Up to this point, 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.
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.
Defense attorney Robert 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 says if Leopold is a bad boss, he should be voted out of office, not charged with misconduct. He said “no one was required to do any of this…They haven’t proven it. Not a scintilla.”
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.