By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun
8:23 PM EST, February 28, 2014
An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge ruled Friday against the ACLU and several individuals who alleged former County Executive John R. Leopold and the police kept files on them in violation of public information laws.
Eleven individuals — including political rivals, former employees and community activists — sued Leopold, former Police Chief James Teare Sr. and the county government in December 2012, alleging that the "dossiers" they believed existed were illegally withheld after they had filed Maryland Public Information Act requests.
Judge John Philip Miller, the retired Baltimore judge who heard the case, dismissed it saying he found no violations of public information law.
Leopold said he felt vindicated by the decision.
"I was pleased that the court could see through the landslide of virulent canards and arrive at a fair and just decision," said Leopold, who resigned in February 2013 after being convicted of misconduct in office.
Leopold, a Republican, said the lawsuit was a "political harassment effort" rather than a case to safeguard civil liberties. "It was never proven in court that there were dossiers created on any of them," he said.
County Attorney David Plymyer said that Anne Arundel government agencies conducted a search for the documents after receiving the Public Information Act requests. For most of the plaintiffs, nothing existed, he said. For others, he said, all documents were turned over to them.
"I'm certainly gratified that the court felt the county met all of its obligations under the law," Plymyer said. "It was very important for the county and the citizens of the county to know that we certainly did believe those people had a right to see that information. We weren't going to be a party to secreting it or hiding it."
The decision disappointed the American Civil Liberties Union. Meredith Curtis, an ACLU spokeswoman, said the organization is still analyzing the decision and deciding whether to appeal.
"All along, we have been concerned that elected officials receive a strong message — out of what Leopold did — that that kind of activity is not lawful," Curtis said.
In the lawsuit, the ACLU and the 11 plaintiffs were seeking copies of any dossiers or files and unspecified monetary damages and attorneys' fees. The existence of at least two dossiers was revealed in March 2012 when Leopold was indicted by a grand jury, and the ACLU believed even more existed.
The decision in the ACLU lawsuit moves the county government another step further away from Leopold's tenure. His misconduct in office convictions were based on allegations he forced police officers on his protective detail to erect campaign signs, collect campaign donations and compile dossiers, and also required officers and other employees to drain his catheter bag. He is appealing those convictions.
Leopold's actions while in office also spurred two federal lawsuits. Former employees Joan Harris and Karla Hamner sued Leopold and the county, claiming they were unlawfully fired. Leopold was dropped as a plaintiff in both lawsuits and Hamner's case was settled last fall. Harris' lawsuit remains active.
With Friday's decision, Plymyer said, "hopefully we'll have another chapter closed, and one day the book will be finished and all of it will be history."
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