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News Maryland Anne Arundel County

Federal trial set for fired Leopold employee's lawsuit

A federal judge has set a trial date for a lawsuit against Anne Arundel County from a former employee who contends she was improperly fired by former County Executive John R. Leopold.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake scheduled the trial for the first week of March, said John M. Singleton, an attorney for former constituent services representative Joan Harris.

Harris' lawsuit says Leopold's staff retaliated against her for helping another employee, Karla Hamner, prepare her own lawsuit against Leopold and the county.

Hamner, who was a spokeswoman, settled her suit last year. Her lawsuit said Leopold transferred her and then fired her after she complained about his overall treatment of women and that he berated her regarding her hair.

A court ruled that Leopold was not liable and removed him from the case, but the government paid Hamner $110,000 plus attorneys' fees that amounted to $103,000.

Leopold also was removed as a defendant in Harris' case.

The county has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

Singleton said the lengthy legal process has been difficult for Harris, who was fired right after Leopold was re-elected in 2010. Her lawsuit, which was filed in 2012, was delayed while Leopold was tried and convicted on charges of misconduct in office.

"I'm absolutely thrilled. This is a woman who has waited for justice," said Singleton, who had requested the court date. "It shouldn't take five years."

The trial is not a certainty, however. There are outstanding motions from both sides that could result in a judgment before trial.

Jay Creech, senior assistant county attorney, said he believes the judge will grant his motion for summary judgment.

pwood@baltsun.com

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