A judge dismissed one of five charges against Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on Friday — misconduct in office for removing opponents’ campaigns signs.
In his decision, Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said Leopold’s actions, at a minimum, lacked sound judgment. But Sweeney said the fact that officers assigned to protect Leopold drove him to the locations where he removed signs was “a collateral fact” and did not turn the activity into misconduct in office.
The trial on the other charges resumes Monday before Sweeney, a retired Howard County judge who is hearing the case in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. Leopold had waived his right to a jury trial.
Since the trial began last week, lawyers for Leopold (R) have presented witnesses to bolster their argument that police officers and other employees who accompany or work closely with elected leaders are commonly called on to assist with a variety of errands, including some that are personal.
“There is de facto, over the course of time, accepted conduct,” Robert Bonsib, a lawyer for Leopold, told the court.
As to whether Leopold was guilty of misconduct on charges that he had his security detail drive him to parking lots for sex, Sweeney said, “It just doesn’t seem different from driving to a house or hotel. These officers are not moral police for the person they are protecting.”
Deputy State Prosecutor Thomas McDonough said the charges were based not just on individual acts, but a pattern of “cumulative behavior.”
“You don’t just pop up and say, ‘It smells, it’s boorish, it’s a crime,” and no regulations or rules set restrictions on the scope of executive protection officers’ duties, Bonsib said Friday.
According to the indictment, Leopold also used his county-paid security detail to compile dossiers on political enemies, collect campaign contributions, maintain his campaign signs and hide an intimate relationship with a county employee.
Sweeney denied motions to acquit Leopold on two misfeasance charges, one misappropriation and another malfeasance charge associated with those allegations.
Sweeney said there was sufficient basis for allowing those charges to proceed.
And he did so despite Bonsib’s argument that misconduct, as defined in both the state and U.S. constitutions, is “vague” and “overly broad,” and despite the lawyer’s contention that the prosecution had not proved that Leopold “required” employees to take actions that wasted taxpayer money or that were illegal.
Police officers certainly could say “no,” Bonsib said.
But Sweeney countered, “It’s different saying ‘no’ to a county executive who controls the budget and the tenure of the police chief” and could have you switched to midnight shifts.
Bonsib said prosecutors needed to show that Leopold had noticed that what he was doing was wrong and that he acted anyway with intent.
Sweeney asked whether the defense really meant that despite Leopold’s almost two decades as a state delegate and other experience, including as county executive, that he would not know better.