Arundel council wields more authority on legal settlements

Anne Arundel County lawmakers passed legislation Monday night to give themselves more authority over large legal settlements, one of two pending bills related to losing lawsuits filed against the county government.

The provision, passed 6-1, gives the council the right to refuse legal settlements greater than $100,000. Councilman John Grasso, a Glen Burnie Republican, voted against the bill.

The council delayed until Oct. 15 final action on a separate measure that would allow the county to recoup legal costs when an employee's actions put it on the losing end of a lawsuit.

Both bills could apply to the pending discrimination case against County Executive John R. Leopold, who has been accused of orchestrating the firing of a former press aide after she complained about his behavior. Leopold has denied wrongdoing in the case. The county recently hired a $450-an-hour lawyer to defend Leopold in the case, and the lawyer billed taxpayers nearly $21,000 for her firm's first two weeks of work.

The second bill would require the county to try to recoup those costs if a jury determined Leopold acted outside the scope of his employment. The former press aide, Karla Hamner, sat in the audience Monday night as lawmakers discussed the laws.

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