Leopold sentenced to jail, $100,000 fine

Former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was led out of a courtroom Thursday with his wrists handcuffed behind his back and his head lowered, bound for the county jail after being sentenced for his misconduct in office conviction and behavior a judge condemned as "outrageous."

Outside the county courthouse, a Leopold supporter said the judge should be fired, while a woman whose lawsuit alleges that she was wrongly terminated by the Leopold administration walked from the building exclaiming, "Pop the champagne!"


The divergent views illustrated the controversy that grew around Leopold, 70, as he battled allegations of criminal and salacious behavior during his second term as executive — a term cut in half by his conviction.

Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney ordered Leopold to serve 60 days — 30 days in jail, the other 30 as house arrest.


"Some period of incarceration is needed to send the message to public officials tempted to violate their public obligations," Sweeney said. Those who abuse office in a serious way, he said, "will be handcuffed, led from a courtroom and spend time in a jail cell."

The judge suspended the rest of a two-year jail term in favor of five years of probation, and told Leopold he must perform 400 hours of community service and pay a $100,000 fine.

Leopold, making his first public acknowledgment that his actions were wrong, told the judge, "For my irresponsible failures in judgment, I am truly sorry.

"I regret that I ever asked a member of my security detail to touch a campaign sign, a contribution or a bank deposit slip," he said, adding that it was "insensitive" to ask employees to drain his catheter bag.


Leopold's defense team immediately filed an appeal. Their request to block jail time while the appeal is pending was turned down Thursday afternoon by the Court of Special Appeals.

Leopold was convicted in January of ordering his taxpayer-funded police security detail to take on chores for his 2010 re-election campaign and of directing county employees to perform personal tasks that included draining a urinary catheter bag. He resigned three days later.

The misconduct charge carried no specific penalty, giving Sweeney leeway to impose whatever punishment he felt appropriate.

The sentence was stiffer than prosecutors had sought. They requested a one-year suspended sentence, probation, a fine and community service.

"At this point in my career, I am never surprised," said State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.

"I was as surprised as anybody to see the judge give Leopold jail time," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's largest police union. "Usually, politicians tend to have a softer landing."

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, called the sentence "a significant step forward."

But she said the punishment "still sets a fairly low penalty for violating the public trust. There is no penalty that exists that can restore public faith in our elected officials after these offenses occur."

Sweeney suggested that jailing Leopold would serve as a warning to other elected officials.

The judge, who also presided over the corruption trial of then-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, questioned whether officials can be deterred from abusing office if they believe the worst that will befall them is probation, a fine and community service — which was Dixon's sentence.

While he did not mention Dixon by name, Sweeney said Leopold's misconduct convictions stemmed from behavior that began in February 2010 — just a month after the "chief executive of a neighboring jurisdiction was forced from office after criminally violating her duties to the citizens of that jurisdiction."

Her sentence apparently failed to alert Leopold "to make sure he was not abusing his authority," Sweeney said.

Leopold's lawyer sought probation only for his client, asking Sweeney to consider the former executive's decades of public service and that he suffers from bladder spasms and back pain. Attorney Bruce L. Marcus recounted much of Leopold's past, including elected office in Hawaii and Maryland, and his efforts to serve constituents and help the needy.

Leopold's attorneys did not dispute what they called "salacious" and "tabloid-like" allegations during the two-week bench trial but said they reflected poor judgment, not criminal acts.

The trial included testimony that Leopold's security detail drove him to midday trysts in a bowling alley parking lot and ran interference to prevent his longtime companion from interacting with another woman. He was not convicted on counts related to those incidents.

Neither Leopold nor his attorneys commented after the sentencing. Neither did Leopold's companion, Jane Miller, who told Sweeney that Leopold had been punished enough through notoriety and loss of office.

Davitt said he hoped the conclusion of the case would help the county move on after two tumultuous years.

"The office of the county executive can be restored to an office of integrity, rather than be the den of depravity which it been denigrated to," Davitt said.

Also Thursday, a local think tank reported that 20 percent of county residents surveyed recently said "improved governance and ethics" was their top priority for new County Executive Laura Neuman.

Dan Nataf, director of the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said usually no more than 5 percent of respondents mention ethical considerations.

For more than two decades, Leopold was the man with the cherry-red campaign signs bearing only his last name, and he was known for conducting a shoe-leather, door-to-door campaign.

He will be barred from seeking office until he completes probation.

"I think the clock has run out on John Leopold," Nataf said.

Some who watched the trial and sentencing are continuing their own legal actions.

Karla Hamner and Joan Harris, whose federal lawsuits against Leopold and the county are pending, said they felt "vindicated" in their allegations.

Their attorney, John Singleton, said he expects a federal judge to rule in those cases, which have been on hold pending the outcome of Leopold's trial.

"The sentence underscores the seriousness of what went on here," said Deborah Jeon, legal director at American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, which has a public information lawsuit pending over dossiers that it alleges were compiled at Leopold's direction on his political adversaries.

"It also makes it all the more important to ensure that we find out what happened and why it happened, and ensure that measures are put in place to make sure this doesn't happen again," she said.


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