Today was the first 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.
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TODAY’S SCORE: LEOPOLD – 1 STATE – 0
Today was the first day of Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold’s trial in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in Annapolis. Thankfully the visiting judge has an understanding of technology and social media and issued an order allowing members of the media to utilize their phones, laptops, tablets, etc. as long as they were silent. The restriction on video recording, audio recording, and photographs remained. There were plenty of guys with guns there to enforce the “no bleeping, blooping, and boinging rules” although later in the day, Annys Shin from the Washington Post had a slight problem.
— Annys Shin (@AnnysWaPo) January 18, 2013
Overwhelmed And Underwhelmed
The prosecution, led by Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt entered the courtroom armed with an assistant prosecutor and two or three other “assistants” who ultimately ended up being gophers and escorts for witnesses. There were maybe 6 or 7 very large binders which, I assume, were the documents necessary to prosecute the case.
Leopold’s team arrived. Led by private attorney, Bruce Marcus; and assistant and the County Executive. Instead of an equivalent number of binders, they came armed with a library cart full of binders. I thought that Davitt looked a bit surprised and the entire courtroom somewhat channeled Chief Brody in Jaws….you’re gonna need a bigger boat!
The prosecution opened the trial by stating that he intended to prove that Leopold “willfully abused and misused” the powers afforded him by the County Charter. Davitt stated that the County Executive ruled his office with “fear and intimidation” and that his witnesses will bear that out. His opening statement was rather brief.
The defense came out with both barrels blazing. They painted the picture of a man who spent his life serving the people in Hawaii (State Representative, State Senator, candidate for Governor) and Maryland (State Delegate, County Executive). Their slide show (this team was armed with iPads and PowerPoint) highlighted his years of service and his recent medical issues. They charged that the indictment was purposely written salaciously and emerged shortly after a battle with the police and fire unions over binding arbitration. In the end, Marcus said that no matter how tawdry or salacious the behaviors, they do not rise to the level of criminal intent. He closed by saying that Leopold was “enigmatic, idiosyncratic and unconventional. He is an anomaly, but he is not guilty.”
Patty Medlin was John Leopold’s scheduling secretary and was the first to testify against her boss. Medlin is still employed with the County in the County Executive’s Office, but not as his scheduling secretary. Medlin explained how she (as a county employee) got the job. She said he said (I think there is a lot more he said-she said to come) “Patty, I like you and want you to join my team.” She was very concerned about doing that because she did not like the idea of giving up a stable position to work in an environment where she could easily be fired. Apparently county employees are not all that familiar with the term “private industry”–we all run the risk of getting fired! On a lighter note, prosecutor Davitt kept referring to her as Mrs. Leopold throughout her testimony eliciting snickers from the courtroom. Medlin explained her duties which was a pretty boring few moments. Then Davitt got into the salacious part. Medlin testified that she did the tasks requested because she was afraid if she did not, that she would be seen as disloyal and be fired. Those tasks included arranging for police to prevent his “girlfriend”, county employee Connie Casalena, from creating a scene and from running into his “significant other” while the executive was recuperating in the hospital. She said that during the campaign she would coordinate efforts to have his security detail travel the county to check on campaign signs. In the most disturbing testimony, Medlin broke down and cried. After being discharged from the hospital, Leopold was required to wear a catheter bag. According to Medlin, Leopold explained that it needed to be changed several times a day and said, “You don’t have a problem with that patty, do you?” Fearing that she would be fired, she complied until one point when she saw him bend over to tie a shoe and then place his foot up on a heat register. The crowd was visibly squirming as she described getting on her hands and knees to change the bag. Surprisingly, the defense had no questions for Medlin and she was dismissed.
Patrick Thomas Shanahan
Tom Shanahan is the former Chief of Police for Anne Arundel County and was replaced by Leopold appointee James Teare. Shanahan was brought in to testify to the origins of the Executive Protection Unit (EPU) as it was started under his watch. It was very difficult to hear the former Chief and it was incredibly strange (especially for a cop) that he avoided all eye contact with the prosecution, the defense and for the most part the judge. Under cross examination he revealed that there were very little Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the EPU.
Lt. Katherine Goodwin
Lt. Katherine Goodwin is a current officer with the county and served on the EPU for both Janet Owens (former County Executive) and John R. Leopold. She testified that in her duties for Owens, she did not do any political work beyond driving her to various events. She said that she also drove the executive to some social events as well that were out of the county and admitted to doing some very small errands (running into store to get a sandwich, etc). When she was cross examined, the defense really drove home that fact that there were no guidelines or SOPs to govern the EPU. Marcus asked he if she had ever heard of the Secret Service and if she felt that they might be an authority on executive protection. Parts of her testimony did not make common sense. On one hand she was tasked with protecting the County Executive at all costs; yet on the other she stated that she often would wait in the car when Mrs. Owens would do her grocery shopping. Grocery stores can be dangerous places.
Janet S. Owens
Next up was the former County Executive, Janet Owens. Owens testified that she, in fact, started the EPU. She explained the level of trust she had with her officers and how that she might consider them part of an extended family due to all of the information to which they were privy and the time spent together. When questioned about personal use, Owens testified that she did ask the drivers to maintain mileage logs to differentiate between county business and campaign business when she ran unsuccessfully for Comptroller in 2006. Her campaign then reimbursed the police department for the mileage. There was no mention if this was done during her 2002 campaign for her 2nd terms as County Executive. The defense pointed out that while Owens’ campaign did reimburse the county for mileage, gas, wear and tear on the vehicle, there was no reimbursement for the salaries of the officers who were with her. Once again, the courtroom snickered when she was asked if her EPU referred to her as “Aunt Janet.”
Corporal Joseph Pazulski
Cpl. Pazulski took the stand last. Like Lt. Goodwin, he was assigned to the EPU for both Owens and Leopold. His testimony was somewhat damning to Leopold in that he recalled being told that it was “ok” for him to put up political signs as long as the County Executive was with him–presumably because of the back surgery, Leopold could not do it. He said that he had been asked to deliver Sunday papers to Leopold and to remove the circulars prior to delivering the paper. He testified that Leopold also tasked another EPU officer to watch campaign contributions at a candidate announcement event. One thing that he did mention that was not reported by the Capital Gazette or Annapolis Patch was that while working for Owens, he did deliver signs to supporters, but not install them. (Note: the acoustics in the room stink, but I am pretty sure that is what was said.) As for his humorous moment, the prosecution introduced “Exhibit somethingorother” an turned around a big map of the county. They asked Pazulski to indicate the location of Leopold’s “significant other” on the map, but since she lived in Pasadena, it was too tall for the Corporal and they needed to take the map of the easel so he could reach! By the time Pazulski had run through the prosecution’s questions, everyone was ready to go home and Judge Sweeney agreed. He will be cross examined on Tuesday.
General Comments, Observations, Ruminations
I have to give huge props to the sketch artist. I am not sure who he is working for or if the Circuit Court is just redecorating, but I was looking over his shoulder and what he does in the time he is allowed is nothing short of amazing. They need to do a beer commercial for him.
Overall, I think that for today, the defense rolled over the prosecution. The prosecution tried to portray Leopold as a megalomaniac with criminal intent. At best, they may have proven that he is an asshat for a boss. For Medlin to say she feared saying no is ridiculous. If she said no and was subsequently fired–THEN a law was likely broken and the executive would have to answer for it. Were his mannerisms and comments lecherous? Probably? Is that criminal? Nope! Lecherous bosses have been around for eons and will continue for eons in the future–look at Hollywood.
The same logic follows through to the EPU. Without any guidelines, where do you draw the line? Well, OK at the whole catheter thing, but you get my point. One very good point the defense brought up was that many of the charges in the indictment surround the “illegal” activity of Leopold; yet the sworn officers never did anything to stop it–until now. If it was illegal then, it’s still illegal now–except for gay marriage and that’s a good thing!
Based on the medical condition of the County Executive, while I think asking the EPU to do the chores, electioneering, and (ugh) catheter bag changes is not right, I can see the logic behind it. Sure, for the catheter he should have had a home health aide come to him to handle it if he was unable. In hindsight, maybe he should have had campaign staff tend to his signs.
But from what I heard today, John R. Leopold belongs on Horrible Bosses and not CSI: Criminal Intent. But tomorrow–well Tuesday because Monday is MLK Day–is another day and there are plenty more witnesses to come and quite possibly there will be some criminal behavior proven.
At this point, I see a slimy boss, not a conniving criminal. Poor choices abound. Based on the indictment and conversations with many others who are equally as non-law trained, the only criminal offense might be the theft of Joanna Conti’s campaign signs. But there is a precedent already on that–David Corrigan was caught stealing political signs in October 2010. He was caught with nearly 100 signs in his vehicle and was granted Probation Before Judgement in an Alford Plea and fined $5000. His PBJ was completed in September 2012. Leopold is accused of stealing six signs.
What do you think? Leave a comment and please vote in our poll!
Time will tell. See you Tuesday!