Grand jury hearing on sheriff postponed

Harford's Meadows target of worker's complaint

April 01, 2003|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A grand jury proceeding called for by the state prosecutor and set to convene this morning in Harford County Circuit Court to determine whether Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows should be indicted on criminal misconduct charges has been postponed, his lawyer said yesterday.

Meadows' lawyer, H. Edward Andrews III of Bel Air, said that he had been in contact with Stephen Montanarelli, the state prosecutor, and "the grand jury will not convene. ... The decision Mr. Meadows makes will be made public at some point in time in the future."

When asked if Meadows planned to make an announcement this week, Andrews said, "I'm not anticipating any period of time. I have to go talk with Montanarelli again and Meadows again. We needed some additional time to consider our conversations."

Meadows was named this year in a personnel complaint by a longtime female employee in the sheriff's office. The matter was turned over to Howard County police for investigation, but the state prosecutor's office reviewed the case and stepped in.

Meadows, 42, chose to stay out of the office for several weeks, but when Montanarelli took over the case, he returned, saying he needed to resume the job he had been elected to carry out.

Yesterday, when asked if Meadows was still in the office, his lawyer said, "I believe he is taking some additional time off." Andrews added that the investigation had been very stressful for Meadows and that his client didn't want to disturb operation of the sheriff's office.

However Ginger Rigney, sheriff's office spokeswoman, said that to her knowledge, no duties had been turned over to other commanders and Meadows "is still at the helm."

Kathleen Cahill, a Towson lawyer who represents the sheriff's office employee, said that if Meadows resigns, "we will continue to assess our options for a civil suit," but that none was pending.

If Meadows is indicted or even found guilty of misconduct in office, he would not lose his retirement benefits, said Robert Zarnoch of the state attorney general's office. "Even a criminal conviction wouldn't forfeit your pension," he said, adding that the precedent for such situations was set by the mail-fraud conviction of former Gov. Marvin Mandel.

Byron L. Warnken, a University of Baltimore law professor, said generally when public officials face charges of wrongdoing, "all this stuff winds up being heavily negotiated. Obviously, the government holds all the cards. Prosecutorial discretion is just that."

Meadows, a former assistant state's attorney for Harford County, was elected sheriff in 1994 and re-elected to his third term in November.

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