A judge found Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold guilty Tuesday of two counts of misconduct for using public employees to perform political and personal tasks, and he was suspended from office while the County Council made plans to force him out permanently.
Circuit Judge Dennis M. Sweeney said the two-term Republican broke the law when he directed his taxpayer-funded police protection detail to put up campaign signs, collect contributions and compile dossiers on adversaries during his 2010 re-election campaign, and when he required county workers to empty the urinary catheter bag he used after back surgery.
By using "free public employee help" for his campaign, Sweeney said, Leopold "was placing his thumb on the scales of our political system" and "robbed Anne Arundel County citizens of the fair political and electoral process they were entitled to receive."
Sweeney called Leopold's demands that police officers and his scheduler change his catheter bag several times per day "simply outrageous, egregious and wildly beyond any authority he possessed or could reasonably thought he had obtained by virtue of his office."
Leopold, 69, stood with his hands clasped behind his back as Sweeney read his verdict.
The judge, who heard the case without a jury, found Leopold guilty of two counts of misconduct in office.
He found Leopold not guilty of another count of misconduct, for directing police to take him to a bowling alley parking lot for sexual liaisons with a county employee, and one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Leopold spoke briefly to reporters outside Anne Arundel Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis.
"Humbled by the verdict," he said.
Defense attorney Bruce Marcus did not say whether they planned to appeal.
"Loser!" shouted a passing motorist.
Sweeney said he would consult with prosecutors and defense attorneys before setting a date for sentencing. Judges have broad leeway in sentencing for misconduct because the charge carries no specific sanction.
Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond took over as acting county executive, and County Council Chairman Jerry Walker, a Republican, called an emergency meeting for Wednesday afternoon to introduce a bill to remove Leopold from office.
The verdict put an exclamation point on a case that riveted the county and state and. appeared to imperil the long career of a man who a year ago was entertaining the possibility of a run for statewide office.
Leopold's attorneys did not dispute what they called "salacious" and "tabloid-like" allegations during the two-week trial, but argued that they reflected poor judgment, not criminal wrongdoing.
State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt said he was "very pleased" with the verdict, and said Sweeney had convicted Leopold on "the two major counts."
Two adversaries on whom Leopold ordered dossiers expressed relief. Joanna Conti, Leopold's Democratic challenger in 2010, and Carl O. Snowden, a former civil rights director for the state attorney general, both sat in the courtroom for the verdict.
"He used police officers similar to the way [former
Snowden said he plans to move forward with a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Leopold and the county. He had previously filed notice of the suit with the county.
Conti said the verdict had restored her faith in the democratic process.
"Now it's up to the County Council," she said.
After the meeting Wednesday, the council is expected to hold a public hearing and vote Monday on the bill to remove Leopold. A provision in the County Charter allows the council to oust the executive for crimes of "moral turpitude." At least five of the seven members must agree for the measure to pass.
County spokesman David Abrams said Leopold was suspended under the Maryland Constitution, which was amended by voters last year to require the suspension of elected officials upon conviction of a crime.
It was unclear whether Leopold's case would in fact fall under the amendment, because he was indicted before state voters approved the measure in November. Without the amendment, the suspension would not be in effect. Typically, public officials are removed from office after sentencing.
Leopold had signed an executive order on Monday designating the chief administrative officer as acting county executive "in the event of my temporary disability or absence from the County."
If Leopold is removed from office, it will be up to the County Council to select a replacement from the Republican Party.
In closing arguments earlier Tuesday, Davitt described Leopold as an intimidating boss who knew from his long experience as an elected official in Hawaii and Maryland that it was wrong to direct public employees to run his personal and political errands.
And if Leopold didn't know, Davitt said, he should have listened when officers and aides warned against using police officers to post his red Leopold signs around the county during the 2010 campaign.
Marcus didn't dispute that Leopold directed the officers to put up his signs, to gather information on Conti, to empty his catheter bag, to ferry him to the weekly liaisons with the county employee or to keep the relationship from his live-in girlfriend.
But Marcus said none of these actions amounted to a crime. He described Leopold as an "enigmatic, idiosyncratic, unconventional" politician who sought help from the workers around him only after he began to suffer debilitating back pain.
If that was wrong, Marcus argued, it should be left to county voters to judge Leopold in the next election.
Leopold is serving his second term, the maximum allowed under county law.
Sweeney agreed with Marcus on one count. "At a bare minimum," he said, the parking lot assignations were "tawdry, degrading and highly offensive." But he said he could not conclude that they amounted to criminal misconduct in office.
Sweeney found Leopold not guilty last week of a fourth count of misconduct, for directing officers to drive him around as he uprooted Conti's signs.
The judge called Leopold's conduct toward former scheduler Patricia Medlin "particularly egregious."
Medlin had testified tearfully that she changed Leopold's catheter bag two or three times per working day for months because she feared for her job.
The 15-year county worker said she had told the executive when she joined his staff that she was concerned about losing her job and jeopardizing her retirement.
"Given this knowledge and the power imbalance," between Leopold and Medlin, Sweeney said, "his conduct appears predatory and cruel."
"This continuing abusive and outrageous conduct exceeded any right that any employer, either public or private, would have to demand of employees who were hired to perform office or security work. …
"The fact that defendant did this in such a cavalier and arrogant fashion, especially as it pertains to Ms. Medlin, shows defendant's utter contempt for the public employees who worked under him."
Prosecutors built their case on the testimony of Medlin and a parade of police officers.
Officers testified that they spent several hours each working day during the 2010 campaign putting up Leopold signs. One said he gathered information on Conti.
Officers also said they drove Leopold on Tuesdays after lunch to the bowling alley parking lot for the meetings with his mistress, and kept watch to make sure that no one happened upon the encounters.
When Leopold was at Anne Arundel Medical Center for back surgery, officers testified, he directed them to ensure that the woman didn't show up at the hospital.
Leopold's attorney's called just three witnesses: Two doctors to testify to Leopold's health in 2010, and the county personnel director, who said she processed Leopold's requests to give some of his pay back to the county.
They also entered his health records into evidence, after asking Sweeney to seal them to preserve his privacy as a patient.
Baltimore Sun reporter Erin Cox contributed to this article.
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold was found guilty Tuesday of two counts of misconduct in office after a two-week trial in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. He was found not guilty of two other counts of misconduct in office and one count of fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary.
Leopold was suspended from office. Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond became acting county executive.
The Anne Arundel County Council scheduled an emergency meeting for 3 p.m. Wednesday to introduce a bill to remove Leopold from office. The council scheduled a hearing and vote on the bill for Monday.
Circuit Court Judge Dennis M. Sweeney will conduct a conference call with prosecutors and attorneys for Leopold to decide a date for sentencing. Leopold remains free while awaiting sentencing.