County Executive John R. Leopold has changed his decision for a jury trial and opted to have retired Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney decide his fate in his criminal misconduct trial. This comes after a day spent questioning potential jurors who were all dismissed today.
For a defendant, there is risk in both types of trials. Juries can be fickle, unpredictable, and emotional. It was quite probable that a jury trial could have resulted in a hung jury and a dismissal or re-trial of the case, further prolonging the legal battle.
In theory, a judge should be able to remove most of the emotion from a trial and rule on the facts and the evidence. But they are certainly not without opinion.
Judge Sweeney presided over the trial of former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and offered some closing remarks before sealing the Mayor’s fate. Included in those remarks was this comment:
The agreement allows the City of Baltimore to move forward from this painful and dispiriting episode and avoids what would have certainly been months if not years of continuing litigation and appeals that would have prolonged the agony for all involved and prevented the important business of the City and its people from being dealt with in the best fashion.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon settled her case with a plea bargain that included probation, community service, restitution, and ultimately the resignation of her office. It can be argued that Leopold’s alleged crimes do not compare.
Is Judge Sweeney inclined to rule more favorably towards Leopold because he wants the County to move forward and past the issue? He indicated that there were months, if not years, of appeals in the future for Baltimore which seemed to leave a bad taste in his mouth. Will his opinion be similar here in Anne Arundel County?
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin on Friday.
Leopold’s Other Woes
Leopold is also facing several civil suits surrounding allegations from a former employee that he allowed for a hostile workplace and sexual discrimination among other allegations. While the outcome of this criminal trial will not necessarily affect those cases, a not-guilty verdict would put a damper on them.
The ACLU and Carl Snowden are also suing the County Executive alleging that he maintained dossiers on political “enemies” for political gain. A not-guilty verdict or a dismissal in the criminal case would likely resolve that one as well.
Many Appeals Likely
Since Leopols is in the “fight of his life,” a guilty verdict, or a ruling on behalf of the plaintiff in the civil cases, will most likely result in several appeals to the decision which will likely outlive Leopold’s political life as he prepares to leave office in 2014. In terms of the costs of these trials, Leopold has agreed to refund the County the cost of defense of his civil cases if there is an unfavorable verdict, but until such a time, the embattled County Executive is working with an open taxpayer-funded checkbook.
The other day, we posed a poll asking our readers what they thought the outcome would be–55% said guilty, 30% said not-guilty. Now with this new information, has your opinion changed? Please take a look and vote!
We welcome your comments!