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Leopold criminal trial draws ears of those with civil cases against him

Laws and LegislationJustice SystemAmerican Civil Liberties Union

As Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold sat through his criminal misconduct trial, behind him sat people hoping the testimony and guilty verdict could bolster their pending civil cases.

Two former county employees were there, seeking fodder for cases in which they allege they were wrongfully fired, one for complaining about Leopold's behavior, the other for helping her co-worker with her claim. Also there were attorneys for the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union who are building a case over allegations that Leopold ordered police to compile dossiers on his political opponents.

Karla R. Hamner, one of two former employees whose complaints are pending in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, said the accusations aired in criminal court give credence to her allegations that Leopold behaved inappropriately toward women and created a troubling work environment clouded by fear.

"The overarching theme is he mistreated his staff," said the former press aide. And the judge's verdict, she said, "adds a lot of validation to the claims that are made in my lawsuit."

"Some of the testimony involved the fear and the intimidation, and it was real for me," said Joan M. Harris, the other complainant. "To listen to people mirror the same feeling made me feel I wasn't alone."

Leopold resigned Friday. A judge found him guilty days earlier on two counts of misconduct in office for using his taxpayer-funded police security detail and scheduling secretary to drain his urinary catheter bag and for having county employees do campaign work for him. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 14.

In his resignation letter, Leopold acknowledged "serious errors in judgment." His defense team had argued the allegations might have reflected poor judgment but that he did nothing illegal. They also pointed out that he relied more heavily on employees who worked closely with him as he endured back problems and two surgeries.

Leopold also was accused of ordering police to ferry him to sexual rendezvous with a female county employee, to keep his girlfriend from running into his mistress, and to retrieve his dry cleaning. But he was not convicted of those charges.

The 69-year-old two-term county executive has denied wrongdoing in the civil cases.

The county, also a defendant named in the civil cases, denies wrongdoing as well. And County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson disputed that Leopold's criminal case is relevant.

"If we felt that it would be helpful for us in any way for the civil cases, we would be there," Hodgson said. "We did not see relevance to the civil cases."

Lawyers routinely monitor cases they suspect will aid their own by providing information or even potential witnesses.

"It creates a record," said Baltimore lawyer Andrew Levy, who has no ties to any of the civil or criminal cases involving Leopold.

"It is testimony under oath," Levy said. That's available in transcripts and recordings, he added, but witnesses' demeanor isn't. "It's an opportunity to see the witnesses live and in color."

Harris, a former community services specialist with the county, claims in her federal lawsuit that she was fired in part for helping Hamner build her civil case. Her allegations echo many of Hamner's; both are represented by lawyer John M. Singleton.

"I want to hear what everyone is going to say without the cost of deposition," said Singleton, who also attended parts of Leopold's trial and believes evidence presented there will help his clients' cases. "Now I know what the witnesses are going to say. I know who is going to come across as credible and who is not going to come across as credible."

One of the officers on Leopold's security detail who testified at the county executive's trial also gave a deposition in Hamner's case that has been made public.

Harris sat through some of the trial and noted two key witnesses. One was Leopold's former scheduler, Patricia Medlin, who testified that she emptied her boss' urinary catheter bag during the workday and planted campaign signs for his re-election bid because she was afraid she'd lose her job. Another was Cpl. Joseph Pazulski, who testified that he went along with staking the signs because he feared "what the retribution would be."

The ACLU also kept its eye on the criminal case.

"I feel that now the county has to provide us with the answers that we have been seeking for a while," said Deborah A. Jeon, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

The ACLU and 11 individuals sued Leopold and the county in December, claiming the county compiled files on Leopold's perceived political and personal enemies. Jeon said it amounted to political opposition research for Leopold on the county's dime.

The county released some files, but refused to release other material, saying those records may be included in the state prosecutor's criminal probe, Jeon said. She said they should be released now that the trial is over.

She and another attorney involved in that lawsuit attended part of the trial and planned to check transcripts.

Clyde E. Findley, a Washington attorney working with the ACLU, said testimony from Cpl. Howard Brown on Leopold's security detail "confirms that there were files created for these people."

County spokesman Dave Abrams said he "never saw any evidence of dossiers, for lack of a better term, than the three that have been made public."

Activist Carl O. Snowden, who left his post in the attorney general's office and has been convicted of drunk driving and marijuana possession, came to hear closing arguments in the Leopold trial and Judge Dennis M. Sweeney's verdict.

He said testimony from Brown "will help" the lawsuit he plans to file alleging that the county compiled a dossier on him for political reasons. He filed a notice of intent to sue last year.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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