Taxpayers have now been billed more than $42,000 in legal fees in the gender discrimination lawsuit against Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold, who has promised to repay the sum under certain conditions.

The latest invoice doubles the previous tab charged to taxpayers by Thatcher Law Firm, the private attorneys hired by the county to defend Leopold after a conflict arose.

Leopold announced last week that he would repay the county if found guilty in a lawsuit that alleges he physically assaulted a former employee and orchestrated her firing when she complained about him. Leopold has denied wrongdoing in the case. Legal experts said his public promise is not a legally binding contract.

Until August, county attorneys represented Leopold. Thatcher Law Firm was hired days after four police officers gave depositions that described Leopold ordering members of the Police Department to ensure his former press aide, Karla Hamner, did not have a full-time job.

County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson has said state laws required him to hire an outside firm at taxpayers' expense when Leopold's and the county's interests no longer aligned. The private lawyers based in Greenbelt charge as much as $450 per hour and rang up a more than $21,000 tab in just two weeks in August. A September invoice released Monday in response to The Baltimore Sun's public information request doubles that.

After weeks of public pressure, Leopold said he would repay the legal costs, but not any settlements awarded to Hamner and not if the county settled the case without his consent.

ecox@baltsun.com