Reporting Mike Hellgren
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) – A split verdict is in. A judge found Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold guilty of misconduct for Count 1: making staff perform campaign duties and Count 3: misconduct for personal errands. He was found not guilty of the other two counts, including one that could have brought five years of jail time.
Mike Hellgren reports Leopold was calm as the verdict was read with no visible reaction.
When Leopold came out of the courtroom, he had very little to say, other than he is “humbled by the decision.” When asked if he would resign, his attorney interjected, saying “we will be considering all of the options over the next few weeks, and we will let the press know when we come to certain conclusions.”
State prosecutor Emmet Davitt says he is pleased with the verdict.
As a result of his guilty findings, Leopold was suspended from office. The Maryland Constitution mandates suspension of an elected official upon a guilty finding in a criminal case.
Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond will serve as acting Anne Arundel County executive.
Meanwhile, the County Council will have an emergency vote Wednesday at 3 p.m. to determine if Leopold will remain in office. They’ll also discuss ways to prevent misconduct in office from recurring.
Leopold was found guilty on Counts 1 and 3 of misconduct for using his employees for personal and political purposes.
Count 1 dealt specifically with misconduct for making staff perform campaign duties and Count 3 was for misconduct for the use of staffers to run personal errands.
Leopold was found not guilty of Count 4, misconduct for overtime, and Count 5, misappropriation by a fiduciary. Count 5 carried a possible five years in jail. Misappropriation by a fiduciary deals with the overtime funds that the state prosecutor said Leopold wasted by having staffers do his personal errands.
Earlier in the trial, Leopold was acquitted of Count 2, which accused him of stealing an opponent’s campaign sign.
Here’s reaction from lawmakers.
Judge Dennis Sweeney has broad leeway in misconduct cases, so it is unclear what punishment Leopold will receive.
Meghan McCorkell has reaction from constituents.
Earlier in the day, the defense hit the prosecution hard in closing arguments, saying the indictment was fatally flawed in the way that it was written. Throughout the trial, the defense said Leopold’s conduct was not illegal or wrong.
The state prosecutor said he is not the morality police and that Leopold should have known better.
State prosecutor Emmet Davitt started his arguments by saying: “Any eighth-grader would know this conduct is wrong.”
He said Leopold was warned about this conduct by his chief of staff and police. He told the judge Leopold should know better after his long service in the General Assembly.
“The defense never questioned the credibility of our witnesses,” he said.
“There was a lot of discussion about where you draw the line… This was a pattern of abuse,” Davitt told the judge. “It’s not the act but it’s the abuse of power. The actions here are so far beyond the line, there’s no question they’re wrongful.”
Judge Sweeney told Davitt, “It becomes very amorphous. It’s like an obscenity. You know it when you see it, but I can’t tell you until I see it. That’s not a very satisfactory system…You have to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, and if I have a doubt, it goes to them.”
“Should the General Assembly pass a law that you don’t make your employees change your catheter bag?” asked the judge.
“That’s absurd,” Davitt said in response to the judge’s concerns this conduct was not specifically prohibited by the law.
The judge said, “I’m having trouble seeing the line here…This is a messy, messy situation.”
“The State Prosecutor is not seeking to be the morality police here. This is a wrongful and abusive use of county resources,” said Davitt. “The officers are being put in position as part of the cover up.”
Leopold’s lawyer Bruce Marcus closed for the defense, pointing our how vague he says the prosecution’s case was, showing slides of a ski slope and a desert that says “shifting sands” and “slippery slopes.”
“What Mr. Leopold did was not wrong,” Marcus said. “The standard cannot be subjective.”
“Just because the prosecutor says it is wrong does not make it wrong,” he told Judge Sweeney.
Marcus also said Leopold thought the employees were emptying his urine because they were his friends and “never thought they’d charge the county overtime for it.”
He pointed out all of their overtime was approved and justified by the department.
Marcus went on to say that the court of public opinion will judge Leopold on his actions.
“There is no consensus about what is and is not illegal,” Marcus said. “On the case of boorish behavior, there is a judge. It’s the voters in the general election and not the judge in this courtroom.
“Some of the behaviors are not what anyone would like to see in a public official, but they were not illegal. He was doing the people’s business while on great pain.”
Marcus asked the judge to find Leopold not guilty on each count.
Marcus also argued the prosecution charged the county executive with the wrong crime–misconduct by misfeasance instead of misconduct by malfeasance. Malfeasance is intentionally performing an illegal act. Misfeasance is a legal act performed wrongfully. The judge is trying to determine whether there is a “fatal flaw” in the indictment.
The prosecution rebuttal was done by Thomas McDonough.
“If there’s ever been a willing abuse of authority, this is it,” McDonough said. “He didn’t do things for money. He loved the exercise of power, and he picked on those in the weakest positions.”