UPDATE: Here is a copy of the full Memorandum issued by Judge Dennis Sweeney with all of his comments regarding each of the charges. (PDF, 40 pages)
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was found guilty this afternoon of two counts of misconduct. He was found not guilty on another misconduct charge as well as a misappropriation charge. A fourth misconduct charge was thrown out earlier in the trial. If convicted on the misappropriation charge, Leopold would have faced a minimum of one year in jail and a maximum of five years. The sentencing will be scheduled in the coming weeks. These are misdemeanor charges and it is unlikely that Leopold will see any jail time.
The reaction in the courtroom was mixed. Judge Sweeney at time, appeared to be leaning towards a not-guilty verdict, and others seemed to admonish the County Executive. Personally, I was shocked and thought the defense proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the charges were slimy, but not criminal. Joan Harris, one of Leopold’s accusers in his upcoming civil trial was overheard celebrating that he will lose his job. “I hear they are hiring at the bowling alley–and they have free parking.” said Harris.
The prosecution exited the courthouse and issued a brief statement saying that they were pleased with the verdict and would be conferring with the judge and defense over the next days to make a recommendation on sentencing.
About forty minutes later, Leopold and his defense team came out of the courthouse. As expected, there was minimal comment other than to say they were disappointed and would be exploring all of the legal options for Leopold.
What Happens Next
At this point, in accordance with a new law, Leopold is suspended from his position immediately without pay or benefits until all of his legal options are exhausted. Currently, Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond is serving as the Acton-County Executive.
In a separate move from the suspension, the Anne Arundel County Council will be holding an emergency hearing tomorrow to introduce a bill to remove Leopold from office. The bill will be voted on on Monday night during the regular council hearing. County Council Chairman Jerry Walker was nearby and spoke to the media.
To remove the County Executive, there needs to be a clear majority of votes. So, the Council will need 5 out of the 7 council members to vote to remove Leopold. The new County Executive is supposed to be selected from the current County Council, which has a history of issues with such things. Then the vacant seat shall be filled with a special election.
The Council is also embroiled in a seat dispute with Daryl Jones. Jones was ousted when he went to serve a federal sentence for tax evasion. His seat was filled by Peter Smith. Jones is challenging his removal and if he prevails, Smith will be removed and Jones will get his seat back. Maybe the answer is to let Smith be the County Executive and give Jones his seat back!
But if the Council removes Leopold prior to him exhausting his appeals, there is a chance that Leopold could (like Jones) sue to have his seat back if his appeals are successful. It may be short sighted to remove the executive at this point.
Well, it is over. Many feel vindicated. I was shocked at the verdict, not because I felt he was worthy of exoneration, but that I felt that the prosecution did a poor job and the defense did an outstanding one. I still believe that using the excuse of “being afraid” is not a valid basis for prosecution. The officers and staff testified that they never refused a request. Leopold never ordered or required them to perform any task. In fact, the officers testified that they offered to do campaign work and one even contributed–twice.
I think the defense has set the stage for an appeal, but attorneys Bruce Marcus and Bob Bonsib have not shown their hand there.