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Arundel executive ordered worker's firing, deposition says

Depositions given under oath by Anne Arundel County police officers said County Executive John R. Leopold personally ordered the firing of a county employee who had complained about his conduct.

The depositions were filed Thursday in U.S. District Court as part of Karla Hamner's harassment lawsuit against the county. Officers said Leopold told then-County Police Chief James Teare Sr. that the woman was being transferred to the Police Department but was not to be given a permanent job.

"[Leopold] said that he can't have anybody like that in county government," Cpl. Joseph Pazulski said in his deposition, recalling a conversation that occurred as he drove the county executive home in 2008. Pazulski, who was a member of the county executive's security detail, said Leopold told him to call Teare and relay that message.

Leopold met Hamner while she was working at a bank and hired her as public information officer, but she was let go a little more than year later in 2008. She sued the county in 2010, alleging that Leopold fired her after she complained he made unwelcome sexual advances and screamed at her because he disliked her hairstyle.

"I feel so vindicated, and I'm so grateful to these police officers for coming forward," Hamner said Thursday night. She said it was "humiliating" to learn that "everyone in the Police Department knew what was going to happen to me, and I had to sit and face these people every day."

Leopold's spokesman and the county attorney declined to comment.

Another officer said that he witnessed Teare receiving a call from Leopold about Hamner.

"And [Teare] said, 'that was Mr. Leopold," Maj. Edward Bergin said in his deposition. "He wants me to take Karla Hamner over here to the police department and get rid of her, and she's not to be a county employee. He grabbed his face, put his hands in his face like this, and rubbed his eyes. And that's when we had a verbal exchange, and it wasn't very pretty."

The depositions come less than a week after the postponement of a state criminal case that accuses Leopold of misconduct in office, and alleges he used his police detail for political and personal purposes.

Some of the four officers whose depositions became public Thursday said they had testified before the grand jury that indicted Leopold on four counts of misconduct and one count of malfeasance in office.

Leopold has denied wrongdoing in both the civil and criminal cases. Leopold's attorney requested a postponement in the criminal case to give the defense more time to gather material about the use of security details by other public officials.

County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson had asked the federal judge to restrict depositions in the Hamner case so as not to interfere with the criminal case. Judge Catherine C. Blake ordered depositions to be limited to the issue of Hamner's hiring at the Police Department.

Leopold, 69, was elected to a second term in 2010 after Hamner's allegations had surfaced in the news media.

Hamner's attorney, John Singleton, declined Thursday to comment on the case.

Pazulski also said in a deposition that another officer was transferred from Leopold's security detail after telling the executive not to yell at him. He said that Rhonda Wardlaw, who was Leopold's spokeswoman in 2007, was fired after she failed to get a birthday card in time for Leopold's director of government relations.

Wardlaw works for Annapolis' mayor and has not commented publicly on leaving the Leopold administration. She could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

ecox@baltsun.com

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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