It's also common for governments to hire specialists for certain types of lawsuits, said James P. Peck, director of research and information management for the Maryland Municipal League. "When you go for an operation, you'd like to have a doctor who's performed that operation before," Peck said. "It's the same sort of thing."
While the government's required to pay for outside counsel, the law is likely to come as a surprise to taxpayers, said Dan Nataf, a political science professor at Anne Arundel Community College.
"The question, 'How much does it cost?' is the second realization in the dawning that the county is picking up the tab," Nataf said. "It seems like both the [county] council and the public is realizing that there's a financial hit that they're likely to take."
County law does not require any employee to repay legal costs. A bill pending before the council would change that, and the county could sue guilty employees to recoup the loss. Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Democrat from Crownsville who co-sponsored the legislation, does not take issue with the cost of Leopold's attorney unless he's found responsible in the case.
"That's what an experienced trial attorney costs," he said. "What happens after the defense concludes? Then who pays the bill?"
Roy T. Meyers, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, questioned whether the county would afford the same level or representation to any employee.
"What level of defense is a county executive entitled to?" Meyers said. "The question to ask is whether a mid-level supervisor, say in the public works department, accused of the same pattern of behavior would have received the same level of defense."
Hodgson, the county attorney, said the county would provide the same defense to any employee facing the same circumstances.