By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun
7:37 PM EST, January 28, 2013
Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney denied Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's request for acquittal on all charges in his misconduct trial, clearing the way for closing arguments Tuesday.
The defense rested today after calling a total of three witnesses: two doctors to testify to Leopold's health in 2010, and the county personnel director, who said she processed Leopold's requests to give some of his pay back to the county.
Leopold's attorneys also entered his health records into evidence after asking Sweeney to seal them to preserve his privacy as a patient.
Throughout the trial, the defense has sought to show that Leopold was suffering from crippling back pain in 2010, when he is accused of using his taxpayer-funded police protection detail to run personal and political errands.
It was less clear why Leopold's lawyers called Personnel Director Andrea Fulton. She testified that Leopold gave back his 2010 pay increase as the county was preparing to ask county employees to scale back their raises, and requested pay cuts for 2011 and 2012 as employee salaries were also being reduced.
Leopold, 69, was charged last year with three counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary.
The two-term county executive, a Republican, allegedly directed members of his police detail to put up his campaign signs, to gather information on Democratic challenger Joanna Conti, to empty his urinary catheter bag, to take him to sexual liaisons with a county employee and to keep that woman from meeting his live-in girlfriend.
Sweeney found Leopold not guilty last week of a fourth count of misconduct, based on the allegation that he had police officers drive him around as he plucked Conti's campaign signs from the ground.
Leopold's attorneys began today with testimony from Annapolis neurosurgeon Timothy G. Burke, who examined the county executive in July 2010.
Burke used an image of Leopold's lower back to show where fluid appeared to have leaked from his spinal column after surgery in February of that year. Leopold would later have a second surgery.
Leopold's attorneys have described their client as a veteran politician with a long history of winning office on shoestring campaigns he managed himself, and say he sought assistance from his police detail only after he began to suffer debilitating back pain.
On Friday, Annapolis orthopedic surgeon Roy E. Bands Jr. described Leopold's condition as "extremely uncomfortable."
After resting their case, Leopold's attorneys renewed their request that Sweeney acquit Leopold of all remaining charges. Attorney Bruce Marcus said prosecutors Emmet C. Davitt and Thomas M. McDonough had failed to present sufficient evidence to convict.
Sweeney disagreed and directed the sides to return to court at 9 a.m. Tuesday to present closing arguments. Sweeney will decide the case after Leopold waived his right to a jury trial.
His attorneys did not explain the decision, but opting for a bench trial often reflects the expectation that the case will turn on complex legal issues.
Prosecutors rested their case against Leopold last week after calling a parade of police officers to the witness stand.
Officers testified that they spent several hours each working day during the 2010 campaign putting up cherry-red Leopold signs. One said he gathered information on Conti.
Officers also said they drove Leopold to weekly liaisons with a county employee at a bowling alley parking lot, and kept watch to make sure that no one interrupted the encounters.
When Leopold was at Anne Arundel Medical Center for back surgery, officers testified, he directed them to ensure that the woman didn't show up at the hospital.
Leopold attorney Robert Bonsib said Leopold didn't require anyone to perform the tasks. Leopold's attorneys have argued that his actions, while possibly reflecting poor judgment, did not violate any laws.
If convicted of the fraud charge, Leopold could be sentenced to five years in prison. Judges have broad leeway in sentencing for misconduct because the charge carries no specific sanction.
If found guilty, Leopold would be suspended from office and removed when sentenced, under an amendment to the Maryland Constitution approved by voters in November.
An appeal would block the removal, but he would remain suspended.
Sweeney, who presided over the criminal trial of then-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, is hearing the Leopold case in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in Annapolis.
Baltimore Sun reporter Andrea F. Siegel contributed to this article.
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