Today was the fourth day of testimony in the trial of Anne Arundel County Executive, John R. Leopold, who was indicted in March on four counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation. The indictment alleged that Leopold used his executive security detail for personal and political gain. He has pleaded not guilty. Leopold has opted to be tried by retired Judge Dennis M. Sweeney, a retired Howard County Circuit Court Judge. Sweeney also presided over the trial of former Baltimore Mayor, Sheila Dixon. This posting is factually correct; however, it will be presented casually as commentary with heavy doses of opinion, humor, and even a little bit of snark. For traditional reporting of the trial, we recommend that you check out the stories from Allison Bourg of the Capital Gazette and Anna Staver of the Annapolis Patch. You are on Twitter…right? If not you should be. Please follow us (and others) on Twitter. The hashtag for the trial is #leopold. Other media representatives covering the trial are also tweeting and you might as well follow them too. @abourg_capital, @annapolispatch, @melserwbal, @johnaaromwtop, @annyswapo, @amaxsmith, @jlepolastewart, @cherylconner, and @annapolisscott.
TODAY’S SCORE: LEOPOLD – 1 STATE – 0
Today was the fourth day of Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold’s trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis. The court resumed right where they left off with witnesses and testimony. It was wildly expected that Connie Casalena and former Chief James Teare would be called as witnesses, but alas, they were not. And because there were no exciting photos today, I will include the coffee can again along with other exhibits.
Sgt. Timothy Phelen
Phelen was the supervisor of the EPU and ultimately left the unit due to stress; he testified that he “was having trouble sleeping.” However, he remained on the detail on a part time basis which usually resulted in driving Leopold to events and on weekends. He testified that after Leopold’s surgery he traveled from Lothian (45 minutes) to bring a paper (without inserts) to Leopold (who was staying with Miller at the time) by 7:00am and wait until he went to lunch–Double T on Saturdays and Golden Corral on Sundays. Sgt. Phelen also testified that one time he started to assemble a campaign sign and was stopped by Leopold who said “I need to do that.” Leopold also inquired about cameras in certain public and municipal buildings. When Phelen told him that most had surveillance, Phelen testified that Leopold “squirmed in his seat.”
Upon cross examination, Phelan said that he approved the overtime and felt that it was legitimate. As with the other officers, he was offered immunity and questioned why he felt he needed it since his testimony is that nothing he did or saw was illegal to his knowledge. Defense attorney Bruce Marcus questioned if he reported all of the complaints and he testified that he had. At one point when being questioned about his unhappiness and if he made his feelings known, Phelen emphatically said, “I most certainly said I no longer want to be part of this!” Marcus asked if he was that unhappy, why didn’t he resign. There was no response. Regarding the trips to the Golden Corral and the Double T Diner, Marcus argued that Leopold routinely met with constituents at these establishments in impromptu meetings. The Sergeant testified that he did not see that regularly, but could not testify that it did not happen.
It appeared that Phelen was about to be dismissed when the prosecution introduced a SOP for visiting dignitaries attempting to show that there was indeed a SOP for executive protection. That SOP said that officers could not do “errands”, or be “messengers” or “luggage handlers.” Marcus argued that Leopold was not considered a dignitary and upon further questioning, Phelen was unable to testify that the SOP was ever enacted, is enacted, or what state the SOP he viewed (for the first time) was in –concept, draft, etc.
He was dismissed.
DeMarinis works for the State Board of Elections and had a relatively short testimony with no cross examination. He reviewed Joanna Conti’s application to run for office as well as several of Leopold’s Campaign Finance Reports and verified that they were legitimate. He read the balance off one of then which was in excess of $500,000. He was dismissed.
Reigle is the treasurer for the Leopold campaign. Like DeMarinis, he was shown campaign finance reports and verified that they belonged to the campaign. He testified that he did not prepare them , but did verify and sign them stating that the preparation does not come from one source. He was questioned on the bank account access and said that he, along with Leopold were signatories on the Bank of America account and that he signed most of the checks. However, he testified that Leopold kept close tabs on the account.
He was dismissed.
Sgt. Rodney Gettman
Sgt. Gettman is the Shift Commander at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. He testified that the hospital has a VIP policy and that he was never notified to utilize it for Leopold until after the incident with Casalena. He said that the policy, in part, puts the patient on restricted access with no visitors and the hospital not confirming that he or she is a patient.
He was dismissed.
Andrea Fulton is the Personnel Officer for Anne Arundel County. She testified to her position and to the policies in place for overtime. She reviewed several reports and confirmed various aspects of them for overtime pay, etc.
Upon cross examination, she did admit that all of the officers involved in this case were considered “merit status employees” which mean that they fell under the guises of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (LEOBOR). What this means is that County Executive Leopold is removed from any input on hiring or firing. Even if he wanted, Leopold would not have been able to fire them.
She was dismissed
Aimie Shreve is a Special Agent with the State Prosecutor’s office. She was the one that put together the numbers to initiate the indictment. The prosecution questioned her on her methodology and asked her to explain virtually every cell in a spreadsheet.
Upon cross examination, it was determined that when figuring out the cost of overtime hours, she neglected to inquire (or determine) which hours were legitimate overtime hours and which may have fallen into the personal category. For instance, if there was 8 overtime hours on one day and the County Executive attended a constituent meeting for 4 of them–4 are legitimate.
After Shreve left the stand, the prosecution rested their case. This was surprising because it was widely anticipated that former police chief James Teare would be testifying and possibly Connie Casalena. While most of the officers reported their issues to their superiors, it has been alleged throughout the trial that they went up to the Chief and nothing was done. One might argue that Teare is instrumental in obtaining a conviction.
General Comments, Observations, Ruminations
First of all on the surface, the two defense attorneys are worth every penny the taxpayers are paying them. They are being paid to disprove the State’s allegations and, I believe, have done so in a BIG way. Today was no exception and they clearly came out ahead when Sgt. Phelan testified that he felt all activities were legal and that when he tried to help with a campaign task, Leopold refused to let him. The case was further solidified when the prosecutor’s own employee was found to have inaccurately portrayed the overtime calculations.
I do want to give a bug thumbs up for Andrea Fulton. I have never met her, but she came across as professional and looking to answer the facts no matter where they lay. She was (in my eyes) an ideal witness by further explaining her role and the process and allowing the judge to make his own inferences from that.
The prosecution seemed to be parading witness after witness to support testimony from officers that had already be rebuked to a large degree. It almost seemed as if they thought that if they kept saying the same thing, that eventually it would turn toward their perspective.
We spoke with the defense after the adjournment to see what their plans were. Bruce Marcus is very tight lipped but did say that they are prepared to bring in a few witnesses if needed. Procedurally, they will make a Motion For Judgement of Acquittal tomorrow. This motion is a standard motion asking the court to acquit based on the prosecution not making their case. For example, in a trial under criminal law the prosecution has the burden of presenting prima facie evidence of each element of the crime charged against the defendant. If the judge believes that the prosecution did not make their case in a bare bones manner, he can acquit. Marcus told me that it is a motion made no matter how positive or damning the evidence may be. The judge will take it under advisement and rule on it. If he accepts the motion, Leopold is acquitted and will head back to the Arundel Center (likely without a security detail) and continue on as County Executive. More likely, the judge will not accept it and the defense will present its case. Marcus would not tell me who was planned for a witness, but I suspect that it may be experts from surrounding jurisdictions (or possibly the Secret Service) to testify as to the tasks that other EPUs perform for their protectees. This is important because Marcus has clearly demonstrated that the AACoPD had no guidelines or procedures for the task.
Without any surprises, I expect that the defense will be denied their motion and present their witnesses tomorrow and rest. Monday will see closing arguments and a verdict will be read on Tuesday or Wednesday. But ask me tomorrow–it might change!
Based on a non-legal observation of all of the testimony, I think Leopold may be acquitted of all charges or possibly held accountable for one. The misappropriation charge carries a mandatory 1 year sentence. The judge has much more leeway with the other charges.
As I have said in the past, Leopold is a really, really, really bad boss. I am pretty sure there are very few who will dispute that. There are plenty more colorful terms floating out there as well–pervert, sicko, sex addict (hey there was no sex today, I had to work it in), pig, etc. And they may be true. But I also think that most people will agree that judged purely as a County Executive, he has done a very good job. He has admirably done the job for which the people elected him. The County’s finances are in order. The infrastructure is sound. The public safety departments are effective. The parks are clean and useful. Land use and development is in check. There are some parallels here to Bill Clinton–he got a little nookie on the job, but performed admirably as a President.
So, how do I think it will shake out? Here is my guess and we will see at the end! If you want to see the indictment, here it is (PDF).
Count 1 Misconduct. This surrounded having officers required to perform political stuff. They testified they were never ordered or required to do any task. They were afraid to not do it, but that is not Leopold’s problem. Acquitted.
Count 2 Misconduct. Theft of campaign signs. There was testimony that they were illegally placed; but also testimony that some may have been legal. The indictment alleges that of the six signs, two were thrown in the woods/down a hill and the rest were laid down. Is laying a sign down theft? Is throwing it in the woods theft? I am not sure this was proven. And there is question on the legality of at least some of the signs’ placement. This is the count that he might be convicted on; but I think, in the grand scheme it is relatively minor when you consider the slots guy had several hundred signs. Acquitted or Guilty.
Count 3 Misconduct. This is the charge for using the employees to do personal (medical) tasks. Repeated testimony is that they were never required or ordered to do anything. Some complied because they feared he might retaliate. Some voluntarily did them and even contributed financially to his campaign. The “you just don’t say no to John Leopold” defense is very weak and at some point these people who were being walked over need to man up and just say no. Acquitted.
Count 4 Misconduct. This charge is about using the security detail to hide his relationship with his girlfriend from his significant other. There was testimony that the significant other was not in the State when he was in the hospital, so there is no need to keep the two apart. The charges focus on the hospital stay, but the CE asked for no visitors and it was testified that the EPU never notified the hospital and Casalena had to be removed by the hospital staff. Leopold probably had a valid political reason for keeping his medical issues private–not that anything he has done is private any more! Acquitted.
Count 5 Misappropriation. The misappropriation stems from the allegation that he used the officers (and their $5000 in OT) to hide the relationship. Like above, I am not sure that is the case. Throughout the testimony, blowjobs aside, there were only two instances wehre Connie Casalena was mentioned–the hospital incident (where the EPU seemingly failed) and a dog judging contest at Quiet Waters Park where Leopold asked his officer to keep Casalena away from him that day. Certainly he was at the park for an official duty and not to cruise the parking lot–and a security detail was likely required. Aquitted.
So, the 1 year mandatory sentence is out of the window (misappropriation) and there is possibly one guilty of the remaining 4 for the theft of the Joanna Conti signs. I suspect that the judge turns around and offers some sort of PBJ if found guilty on that charge.
What do you think? Leave a comment and please vote in our poll!
Time will tell. See you Friday!
CUMULATIVE SCORE: LEOPOLD – 4 STATE – 1
PS: Personally, I think that executive protection makes sense but only on an as-needed basis. Certainly, the County Executive (no matter who it is) needs around-the-clock protection and an on-call 24/7 armed driver with a car that has the lights and a siren. Politicians tend to over-inflate their importance. Sure there may be times when there is a legitimate concern, but our US Senators and Congressmen are not afforded those perks of office. But I also noted that the officers involved never complained about the overtime–there is a fairly large differential for the EPU cops! While a lot of the testimony was focused on the number of overtime hours paid, no one bothered to ask if the EPU overtime hours were comparable to a regular cop working his beat in the county. And finally, the County has a watchdog in Teresa Sutherland. She is the County Auditor and has been on the forefront of exposing waste in this administration. She is not appointed by the County Executive, but the Council. According to the Auditor’s website, her duties are
The role of the County Auditor is to serve as a “watch dog” over the affairs of the Executive Branch, ensuring public funds are spent in accordance with budgets adopted by the County Council and other provisions of the County Charter and County Code. The Auditor is required to call to the attention of the County Council and the County Executive any irregularity or improper procedure that she discovers.
Where was she? Did she review this? What were the findings? If not? Why?