Leopold sentenced to jail, $100,000 fine

Judge exceeds prosecution's request for former Anne Arundel county executive

  • State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt comments after former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold was sentenced to 30 days in jail, 30 days on house arrest, probation, a fine and community service.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt comments after former Anne… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
March 14, 2013|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

Former Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was led out of a courtroom Thursday with his wrists handcuffed behind his back and his head lowered, bound for the county jail after being sentenced for his misconduct in office conviction and behavior a judge condemned as "outrageous."

Outside the county courthouse, a Leopold supporter said the judge should be fired, while a woman whose lawsuit alleges that she was wrongly terminated by the Leopold administration walked from the building exclaiming, "Pop the champagne!"

The divergent views illustrated the controversy that grew around Leopold, 70, as he battled allegations of criminal and salacious behavior during his second term as executive — a term cut in half by his conviction.

Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney ordered Leopold to serve 60 days — 30 days in jail, the other 30 as house arrest.

"Some period of incarceration is needed to send the message to public officials tempted to violate their public obligations," Sweeney said. Those who abuse office in a serious way, he said, "will be handcuffed, led from a courtroom and spend time in a jail cell."

The judge suspended the rest of a two-year jail term in favor of five years of probation, and told Leopold he must perform 400 hours of community service and pay a $100,000 fine.

Leopold, making his first public acknowledgment that his actions were wrong, told the judge, "For my irresponsible failures in judgment, I am truly sorry.

"I regret that I ever asked a member of my security detail to touch a campaign sign, a contribution or a bank deposit slip," he said, adding that it was "insensitive" to ask employees to drain his catheter bag.

Leopold's defense team immediately filed an appeal. Their request to block jail time while the appeal is pending was turned down Thursday afternoon by the Court of Special Appeals.

Leopold was convicted in January of ordering his taxpayer-funded police security detail to take on chores for his 2010 re-election campaign and of directing county employees to perform personal tasks that included draining a urinary catheter bag. He resigned three days later.

The misconduct charge carried no specific penalty, giving Sweeney leeway to impose whatever punishment he felt appropriate.

The sentence was stiffer than prosecutors had sought. They requested a one-year suspended sentence, probation, a fine and community service.

"At this point in my career, I am never surprised," said State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt.

"I was as surprised as anybody to see the judge give Leopold jail time," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the county's largest police union. "Usually, politicians tend to have a softer landing."

Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, executive director of Common Cause Maryland, called the sentence "a significant step forward."

But she said the punishment "still sets a fairly low penalty for violating the public trust. There is no penalty that exists that can restore public faith in our elected officials after these offenses occur."

Sweeney suggested that jailing Leopold would serve as a warning to other elected officials.

The judge, who also presided over the corruption trial of then-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, questioned whether officials can be deterred from abusing office if they believe the worst that will befall them is probation, a fine and community service — which was Dixon's sentence.

While he did not mention Dixon by name, Sweeney said Leopold's misconduct convictions stemmed from behavior that began in February 2010 — just a month after the "chief executive of a neighboring jurisdiction was forced from office after criminally violating her duties to the citizens of that jurisdiction."

Her sentence apparently failed to alert Leopold "to make sure he was not abusing his authority," Sweeney said.

Leopold's lawyer sought probation only for his client, asking Sweeney to consider the former executive's decades of public service and that he suffers from bladder spasms and back pain. Attorney Bruce L. Marcus recounted much of Leopold's past, including elected office in Hawaii and Maryland, and his efforts to serve constituents and help the needy.

Leopold's attorneys did not dispute what they called "salacious" and "tabloid-like" allegations during the two-week bench trial but said they reflected poor judgment, not criminal acts.

The trial included testimony that Leopold's security detail drove him to midday trysts in a bowling alley parking lot and ran interference to prevent his longtime companion from interacting with another woman. He was not convicted on counts related to those incidents.

Neither Leopold nor his attorneys commented after the sentencing. Neither did Leopold's companion, Jane Miller, who told Sweeney that Leopold had been punished enough through notoriety and loss of office.

Davitt said he hoped the conclusion of the case would help the county move on after two tumultuous years.

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