Seated at a defense table Thursday for the first time since his indictment, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold looked on as his attorney successfully argued for a delay in his misconduct trial so he could research how other Maryland officials use their security teams.
Leopold's court date, on allegations that he misused his taxpayer-funded security detail for personal and political gain, offered a glimpse into his defense strategy. His attorney suggested that other executives use their details in similar ways without being charged with a crime.
Records show that the defense plans to investigate the conduct of other officials in Maryland. Attorney Bruce Marcus said in court that the misconduct charges have an "inherent vagueness," and details about how executives handle security are "absolutely central" to Leopold's case.
Circuit Judge Paul A. Hackner ruled from the bench that the trial, originally scheduled for Sept. 4, will be pushed back at least until November, a decision prosecutors accepted with a word of urgency.
"We'd like to try it very soon," senior assistant state prosecutor Shelly S. Glenn said of the case. "It needs to be resolved for the citizens of Anne Arundel County."
The delay could extend the climate of political uncertainty that settled over Anne Arundel County when Leopold was indicted in March. He has denied wrongdoing, but has otherwise declined to discuss his defense.
A grand jury indicted Leopold, 69, on four counts of misconduct and one count of fiscal malfeasance following a yearlong investigation that included testimony from detectives on Leopold's security detail, the county's chief of police and secretaries in Leopold's office.
The office of the Maryland state prosecutor claimed that Leopold broke the law with directives he gave to officers. He allegedly ordered them to drive him to uproot an opponent's campaign signs, ferry him to sexual rendezvous in parking lots, prevent his girlfriends from meeting and compile dossiers on political enemies.
The defense tactic to lift the veil on how officials use their security teams may unearth uncomfortable revelations for Maryland's politicians, said Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College. The records could illustrate how deeply security teams are involved in the daily lives of officials, he said.
"It depends on what he finds," Nataf said. "One wonders if there might be things revealed, which might not necessarily be nefarious in and of themselves, but might raise some eyebrows."
Leopold's lawyer said Wednesday that the defense team is culling information from across the state about other appointed and elected officials and their security details. Public records requests have been sent to other jurisdictions to determine how other executives use their protection details.
Glenn mentioned that the defense planned to send 42 subpoenas if the postponement was not granted.
The investigation into the use of Leopold's security detail has already led to the departure of Police Chief James S. Teare; his retirement was announced by prosecutors, who said the end of his career concluded their probe into his conduct. Leopold's indictment alleged that officers complained to Teare about some of the executive's requests but that Teare did nothing to stop them.
In court, Leopold introduced himself to the judge and said he understood he had waived rights to a speedy trial by asking for the delay. Leopold shook hands with sheriff's deputies as he left the courtroom but declined to comment either on the case or on the postponement.
Marcus, his attorney, declined to comment after the ruling except to say he expected a new trial date to be set within a week and that it could start as late as 2013.
In court documents, Marcus argued that Leopold is being prosecuted for conduct that was not considered a crime when done by other elected officials.
"It would appear that the Defendant is the first elected official to be singled out for alleged misuse of county or state personnel despite public accounts of other elected and appointed officials being afforded the identical treatment," Marcus wrote, though he did not identify any of those officials.
Marcus also argued that the defense needs more time to "pursue additional information which will confirm that the type of services which form the basis of the Government's contentions are routinely provided to officials similarly situated to [the] Defendant."
Hackner, who will not preside over Leopold's trial, said it was not clear that the information sought by Leopold's defense would be relevant at trial, but "I certainly can't say it's frivolous."
Retired Judge Dennis M. Sweeney will hear the case and work with attorneys to set a new trial date.
Leopold's second term as county executive ends in 2014. The allegations against him — and the tax conviction of a county councilman — caused the Anne Arundel County Council to consider tweaking the rules to remove elected officials from office.
Glenn, the prosecutor, told the judge Thursday that while the state wanted the case to move forward soon, the subpoenas Leopold's team said it would have sent out in the next two days would swamp them with information days before the scheduled Sept. 4 date.
"This case just can't linger out there," she said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun