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Leopold sentenced to 30 days in jail

ANNAPOLIS — Former Anne Arundel County Executive John Leopold was led in handcuffs from a courtroom to a county detention center Thursday after a judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail and 30 days of home detention for misconduct in office.

Judge Dennis Sweeney sentenced Leopold to a two-year sentence with all but 60 days suspended for forcing members of his security detail to perform campaign work and another county employee to empty his urinary catheter bag.

Sweeney also sentenced Leopold to pay a $100,000 fine to the state, or a $75,000 fine to the county, and to perform 400 hours of community service. Leopold also received five years of probation.

Prosecutors had not recommended jail time, citing the 70-year-old Republican’s age and health. He has back and urinary problems. Sweeney, however, said a message needed to be sent that misconduct in office carries serious consequences to deter politicians from abusing power after recurring cases in Maryland.

“We can only hope,” State Prosecutor Emmet Davitt said after sentencing. “You know, I think it is a message that will certainly deter certain conduct. I would never be so naive as to think that they’re aren’t going to be individuals who misuse their power, but I think it will send a message.”

Maryland has had some high-profile misconduct cases involving politicians in recent years.

Last year, Del. Tiffany Alston, D-Prince George’s, pleaded no contest to using campaign money to pay for wedding expenses. A jury also found her guilty of using $800 in state money to pay an employee in her law firm. In late 2011, Prince George’s County Executive Jack Johnson, a Democrat, was sentenced to more than seven years in prison for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from developers. In 2009, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, a Democrat, was convicted of embezzling about $500 worth of gift cards donated to the city for needy families.

Sweeney, a retired Howard County judge, presided over the Dixon trial, and he had sharp words for her conduct in office at the time.

Sweeney’s sentence on Thursday appeared to surprise Leopold and his legal team.

On learning he was headed to jail, Leopold walked over to talk with his longtime companion, Jane Miller, who had told the judge earlier in the morning that Leopold is devastated and angry at himself for his conduct. Sweeney, who was watching the pair closely from the bench, asked him to return to a table to sign documents before being handcuffed.

“Mr. Leopold, you’ll need to come back over here,” the judge said.

Leopold’s attorneys asked the judge if he could report to jail Friday. They expressed concern about whether all of his health issues could be addressed at the Anne Arundel County Detention Center immediately. Sweeney said he had spoken to the warden and was assured the facility could handle them.

Before the sentence was announced, Leopold apologized for his actions. He said he took responsibility when he resigned as the chief executive of Maryland’s fourth-largest county on Feb. 1, and wanted to take responsibility again in court.

“I should have known not to make these requests,” Leopold said, referring to the campaign work he asked his security detail to do during his 2010 campaign for re-election.

Leopold also said he realized it was “insensitive” to put an employee in the demeaning position of emptying his catheter bag.

Sweeney said the conduct was “outrageous.” He also said Leopold deprived the citizens of Anne Arundel County of a fair electoral process by using county employees to put up campaign signs when they were on duty as police officers. They also picked up campaign checks and compiled dossiers on political opponents.

Bruce Marcus, Leopold’s attorney, noted his client’s long record of public service. Leopold served 20 years in the House of Delegates. He also served in the Hawaii State House of Representatives from 1970 to 1974 and the Hawaii State Senate from 1974 to 1978.

Marcus described Leopold as “humbled, chastened and profoundly remorseful,” and he noted that his client has been exposed to “ridicule that goes along with a very public trial.”

But Davitt told the judge that Leopold did more than use bad judgment. He abused power, the prosecutor said.

“He did it continuously and over a long period of time,” Davitt said.