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ACLU sues for Leopold’s alleged enemies list

Eleven Maryland residents and a civil-liberties group sued indicted Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold on Wednesday in an effort to discover if their names are on an enemies list he allegedly had compiled illegally.

The ACLU of Maryland, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, said it filed five Public Information Act requests for the list but to no avail. The individual plaintiffs include Jacqueline Allsup, president of the NAACP’s Anne Arundel County branch, and Carl O. Snowden, currently on leave from his position as head of the civil rights division at the Office of the Maryland Attorney General.

The lawsuit, which names Leopold and the county police department as defendants, was filed in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Leopold is scheduled to go on trial in the same Annapolis courthouse next month on charges of misconduct in office and fraudulent misappropriation by a fiduciary, all misdemeanors.

Among other things, he is accused of using his police security detail to create dossiers on his perceived opponents.

Leopold “tried to dig up as much dirt as he could,” said ACLU of Maryland’s legal director, Deborah A. Jeon.

“This information was not collected for investigatory purposes” of law enforcement, Jeon said. “It was for illegitimate purposes.”

Leopold, through his spokesman Dave Abrams, declined to comment on the lawsuit. Anne Arundel County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson did not return telephone messages seeking comment.

“[N]one of the people were suspected of any crime, nor considered a security risk to the county executive, and there was no legitimate reason for the police or any other county employee to be collecting information about them,” the complaint said.

The ACLU requested the dossiers between March 6 and Aug. 15, according to the lawsuit; the county’s response was limited largely to “information that one might expect to find in a politician’s ‘opposition research’ file and came mostly from public record sources.”

“We ultimately just gave up on getting responses to those requests,” Jeon said in explaining the decision to file suit.

Leopold also stands accused of having used his security detail — county police officers — to distribute and check on campaign signs during the 2010 election season. He also allegedly had officers drive him to parking lots and wait while he entered another vehicle to engage in sexual activity.

Leopold, whom an Anne Arundel County grand jury indicted on March 2, allegedly required a police officer to work overtime and prevent the executive’s girlfriend from meeting up with his live-in partner while he was in a hospital having back surgery.

Maryland State Prosecutor Emmet C. Davitt, who will lead the prosecution, said the lawsuit will not affect the criminal case.

“They are two totally separate matters,” he said. “With the criminal case pending next month, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on anything that is happening in a civil matter.”

Leopold has denied criminal wrongdoing through his counsel, Bruce L. Marcus, of MarcusBonsib LLC in Greenbelt. Marcus did not return telephone messages seeking comment Wednesday.

Snowden and Allsup state in the lawsuit that they believe their names are in Leopold’s alleged dossier because of their civil rights activism in the county.

“People should be held accountable and responsible for their actions,” Allsup said in explaining why she joined the lawsuit.

Snowden did not return a telephone message seeking comment. He is on paid leave from the Maryland attorney general’s office following his conviction and suspended 60-day prison sentence last month for misdemeanor marijuana possession.

Attorney John M. Singleton, another plaintiff, said he believes Leopold ordered that he be investigated because he is representing two women who are suing the county executive for alleged sex discrimination and retaliatory discharge in federal court.

Singleton, a Lutherville solo practitioner, said Leopold’s trial strategy appears to be to try to find scandalous information about the opposing attorney.

“Should a lawyer be punished because he is doing his job?” Singleton said in explaining why he joined the lawsuit. “There is no question in my mind that the manner that was employed in defending [himself] against allegations was inappropriate conduct.”

The women Singleton represents — Karla Hammer and Joan Harris — are also plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit, stating in the complaint that they believe their names are on the list because they sued Leopold.

Also suing to find out if their names are in the alleged dossier are:

[bullet] Marvenise V. Harris, who filed a complaint against Leopold in May 2009 accusing him of having sexually harassed her in a cafeteria line.

[bullet] Former Anne Arundel County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond Sr., who has clashed politically with Leopold.

[bullet] Lewis A. Bracy, a community activist in the county.

[bullet] Former Anne Arundel County Board of Education member Eugene Peterson, who has clashed with Leopold.

[bullet] County police Sgt. Eric Lionel Martin Scott, who has been outspoken in his concern regarding discrimination against minority officers and the need for greater diversity in the department; and

[bullet] Mike Shay, of the Green Party, who ran unsuccessfully against Leopold for county executive in 2010.

In addition to the release of the names, the plaintiffs seek one dollar each in compensatory damages, plus attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Attorneys from the Washington, D.C., law firm Crowell & Moring LLP are assisting the ACLU lawyers in the case at no charge, the ACLU of Maryland stated.