Attorneys for Anne Arundel County and former County Executive John R. Leopold urged a judge Monday to throw out a lawsuit claiming the former executive improperly ordered police to compile "dossiers" on political rivals.
Leopold, a Republican, resigned as county executive in February 2013 after he was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in office. The convictions were based on allegations that he forced police officers on his protective detail to erect campaign signs, collect campaign donations and compile the dossiers, and also required officers and other employees to drain his catheter bag. He is appealing those convictions.
On Monday, his attorneys, as well as lawyers representing the county, contended that Leopold, former police Chief James Teare Sr. and the county government did not violate Maryland's Public Information Act in compiling the dossiers, and would be immune from liability anyway because they were acting in their official capacities.
The American Civil Liberties Union said Leopold's actions were malicious and harmed 11 people who were the subjects of the dossiers — including political opponents and community activists. The county, through the Police Department, has possession of the dossiers, and part of the ACLU's argument is that the county hasn't turned them over in a timely fashion, which they said is also a violation of the Public Information Act.
The ACLU and the 11 plaintiffs are seeking copies of the dossiers and unspecified monetary damages.
The dossiers — believed to include information from a police database as well as from other sources — were created on individuals including Thomas Redmond, a businessman and former county councilman; civil rights activist Carl O. Snowden; former Green Party county executive candidate Mike Shay; Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the county's NAACP branch; and Marvenise Harris, a state employee who said Leopold harassed her when he asked for her phone number.
Robert Baror, an attorney for Leopold, said the ACLU hasn't shown "one scintilla of evidence" that the former executive created or shared dossiers in violation of the Public Information Act, which governs the use and availability of government documents.
But ACLU attorney Richard Simpson said Leopold acted maliciously in ordering the dossiers, and that's not a "mistake" that can be shielded by immunity for public officials. "A county executive ordering police to compile dossiers … is not an error in judgment. It's a violation of the law," he said.
Some of the people who were subjects of the dossiers attended Monday's hearing in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in Annapolis. Joan Harris, a former Leopold employee and plaintiff who is also suing the county in federal court, said legal issues surrounding the former executive have dragged on. "It's frustrating, as usual," she said.
There are multiple motions for dismissal and for summary judgment in the case. Judge John Philip Miller, a retired judge from Baltimore, said he'd try to make a ruling on those motions before both sides are due in court for a mediation hearing in late February.