Two federal cases against Anne Arundel can head toward trial, judge says

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A federal judge ruled Monday that claims by two former Anne Arundel County employees, who allege they lost their jobs because of retaliation by the administration of former County Executive John R. Leopold, can advance to trial.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake threw out some parts of the lawsuits by Karla Hamner, a former spokeswoman for Leopold, and Joan Harris, who worked as a constituent services specialist during the executive's first term.

But the judge "kept the crux of both of the cases" said John Singleton, an attorney representing both plaintiffs.

Singleton said the basis of the Hamner case is that she was fired because she complained about Leopold's actions. She alleged Leopold engineered her out of a job after she complained that he grabbed her arms and yelled about her hair.

For Harris, the case centers around he claim that she was let go because she aided Hamner in her lawsuit

"The bottom line is that [the judge] kept in the case that Joan was fired for being the mole and helping Karla's case. This is what we wanted," Singleton said.

The two civil lawsuits are not tied to Leopold's recent criminal trial, in which he was found guilty of two counts of misconduct in office. He began serving a 60-day jail term Thursday that allows him to be placed on house arrest after serving the first 30 days. He also was fined and ordered to perform community service.

Harris, whose $3 million lawsuit alleges that she was fired after Leopold won re-election in 2010, said she hopes her case goes to trial "so that the rest of the story can be told."

"I have been seeking a resolution to this matter for over four years, so I am thrilled that this is heading for the home stretch," said Hamner, who is seeking several hundred thousand dollars in her suit.

Blake ruled Leopold cannot be held personally liable in Hamner's case, a finding that may mean he's absolved from his promise to repay the county the $65,450 that the county paid an attorney to represent him.

"He is no longer involved in the Hamner case because there is no liability on his part," said Linda Thatcher, an attorney hired by the county to represent Leopold.

The judge also dismissed claims by both former employees that their right to free speech was violated.

Blake has not scheduled additional conferences or hearings in either case.

After the ruling, David Plymyer, acting Anne Arundel County attorney, said the county is, "prepared to go to trial if this is the next development." He declined to comment further.

Leopold and the county also are defendants in a lawsuit filed in December in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

The ACLU contends the county withheld documents from a Public Information Act request it made, and also alleges that, at Leopold's direction, county employees compiled dossiers on his perceived political adversaries and accessed law enforcement databases to research people.

Thatcher is representing Leopold in that case.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

twitter.com/andsiegel

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