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Councilmen Want Final Say in Legal Settlements

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold is mentioned in two recent lawsuits against the county, which seek more than $1.3 million in combined compensation.

Anne Arundel County councilmen are introducing a pair of bills that would give them the final say when large legal settlements are reached. And if the individual is a county official in a case of misconduct, the official would have to foot the bill.

The pieces of legislation come at a time when the county is facing two potentially costly litigations. Former employees Karla Robinson Hamner and Joan Harris are each pursuing cases against the county in U.S. District Court on grounds of wrongful termination. Hamner is seeking $300,000, and Harris is seeking nearly $1 million.

Both women worked for County Executive John R. Leopold and mention him as being instrumental in the filing of their legal complaints after accusing him of official misconduct.

In light of these cases, Councilmen Jamie Benoit (D-4th District) of Crownsville and Jerry Walker (R-7th District) of Gambrills, are reviving legislation that would require the council to approve legal settlements over $100,000. The second piece of legislation would empower the county attorney to pursue reimbursement.

“When employees are found to have engaged in certain misconduct, should the employees pay, or the taxpayers pay? That's the question presented by these bills,” Benoit said.

Benoit withdrew similar legislation last year. But now, Benoit said he was confident it would pass.

However, Dave Abrams, spokesman for Leopold, said the council shouldn't be given that kind of authority.

"It was a bad bill then and it is a bad bill now," Abrams said. "The council cannot have closed sessions to discuss potential settlements and does not have the expertise to make legal judgments. That is why we have a county attorney."

As it stands, large settlements with the county are reviewed by the Self-Insurance Fund Committee, a four-member board consisting of county employees—County Attorney Jonathan Hodgson, Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond, Controller Rick Drain and Central Services Officer Fred Schram.

Benoit said Leopold's court case has become a distraction for the county and has subjected it to "hundreds of thousands of dollars" of potential liability.

"If the matter is settled or Mr. Leopold is adjudged liable, given the gravity of the alleged conduct, Mr. Leopold should foot the bill. Period," he said.

In 2008, Anne Arundel County settled with Riverdale Baptist Church for $3.25 million after church representatives claimed county zoning laws infringed on their religious rights, according to The Baltimore Sun.

The bills are set to be introduced in September. 

Jim Davis August 17, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Just a couple thoughts. I fully agree that if a county official is found guilty of misconduct then he/she clearly should pay any penalties and all county incurred expenses with the trial. As to court ordered settlements, or other legal actions because of zoning, or other legitimate, decisions the council should probably stay out of the process. After the dust settles they may want to change the law that caused the case dispute. On the photographs they are fine and would look good at the Post Office or on a milk carton.
Liz Graupman August 17, 2012 at 10:25 PM
Isn't this is what judges and juries are for? I don't trust these folks to make legal decisions.
Chris W August 17, 2012 at 11:05 PM
OMG Jeff. I haven't had that good a laugh in a long time. I think that's worthy of the comment of the day award.
CHARLES TUCKER August 18, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Pictures aside, why didn't some of you nit pickers comment on the CHARTER ammendments? The REAM ACT is going to cost lots of money and more importantly lots of undeserved "favors" that will mitigate our Constitution & Bill of Rights as never before. This should have never have gotten on the ballot and will cloud the real issue it addresses.
CM August 18, 2012 at 05:13 PM
The Self Insurance Committee are all employees appointed by the County Exec and serve at his pleasure (It seems as if all county employees serve at his pleasure). They are not going to represent anybodies interest in this matter but Leopold's.
Nobodys Fool August 18, 2012 at 05:48 PM
Benoit and Walker dont want council to have a say at the union barganing table but they do want a say in Leopold's settlement. A contradiction that makes their political motives all the more transparent.
Real Red August 18, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Wait---I thought Walker was a conservative republican. Did he change parties or just get bought out by the unions?
Pat Clemens August 18, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Mug shot for the union thug. Benoit claims executive has too much power. If this isnt a powergrab then what is? He wants judicial power on top of legislative power.
Ronald August 19, 2012 at 12:14 PM
If you trust Judges you should take a closer look at the corruption on those levels. SOME judges have been apointed by the governore, ran unopposed in the primaries AND ran unopposed in the general election. All of this is smoke and mirrors in order to give yo the impression that you have a say in anything. BUT it is better than the alternative as porposed.
Jenny August 19, 2012 at 12:34 PM
There's a reason why Jamie Benoit's picture looks like a mug shot....because it probably is. That guy is more crooked than Lombard Street.
John Smith August 19, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Obviously the County Council wouldn't be able to overrule the ruling of a judge or jury. Any award ordered by a court would have to be paid and couldn't be subject to County Council approval. But I agree the County Council should have oversight over Leopold's appointees being able to unilaterally make the decision to settle a case out of court to avoid going before a judge and jury. If Leopold tells them to pay off those he wronged with a confidential settlement, his appointees wills say "yes sir." This is the government, and these are not state secrets. There should be transparency.
Buzz Beeler August 20, 2012 at 12:01 PM
Frank, Jeff seems a little critical. You might suggest that he can upload additional pics of the councilman with his camera, in order that we many critique his efforts at photo journalism. A good journalist goes out and gets the story. Sure you get use the standard government photos, and sometimes that is necessary, but you always don't capture their expressions which is a story in itself. Too many reporters rely on press releases to write their articles and this is not, in my opinion journalism and that includes taking photos.
Danny D August 20, 2012 at 07:07 PM
So if a councilman is accused of sexual harassment then he would have a say with his collegues on the settlement responsibility. Just as I dont want the executive's staff deciding settlements when he is under consideration, I dont want council, a political body, having a say. Have the courts appoint an independent legal team to do settlements that involve elected officials and their appointees, just like they do to investigate the president and his appointees. There has to be a better way than giving politicians legal authority like this. Are we still living in America?
Sara J August 20, 2012 at 07:16 PM
Thank you Danny D for pointing out Rep Club President Leahy's contradiction. Does the Severna Park Rep Women's Club vote and endorse her hatred for Leopold to the point of supporting legislation that goes against Madison's three branches of government? There needs to be an independent board, similar to Personnel dept, that is independent of all of these politicians. Leahy's blatent disreguard for legitimate government organization that respects our constitution makes me ashamed to be a republican women living in Severna Park. She will never speak for me and needs to resign.
J Peterson August 20, 2012 at 07:26 PM
Benoit and Walker voted against tax payer representation in union contracts but are excited to give the taxpayers a "say" in rare legal settlements? If that isnt politics at its worst, I dont know what is. I am shocked that Leahy would put aside our constitution in the name of doing walker a favor. I agree that we need to have a different group, like Personnel Dept is set up, to ajunicate these settlements. Benoit and Walker need to change it to reflect genuine judicial authority (ie independt body) or withdraw this constitutional contradiction.
Millie W August 20, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Maybe if Leahy actually read the legislation she comments on she would understand the frustration we have in this contradiction. Why would the president of a political club comment so irresponsibly without reading the legislation? And she organizes demonstrations, fundraisers and letter writing campaigns for republicans? How can we, as republicans follow a leader that is quick to dismiss our constitution and doesnt even do her homework on the important issues we face. No more money going to SPRWC I can guarentee you that!
Howard TB August 20, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Although these cases may go thru a full judicial process, most of these cases dont. I think the independent body is the best idea I have heard in a long time. The ethics commission and Personnel Dept are two great examples to model. May need to have law license to qualify and similar requirements of the group, but better than chucking the balances of power of our three branches for the apparent politics going on with these two councilmen. Disappointing to see a republican club president make a fool of herself like that. I guess republican fools run amuck in AACO. Our circus council, McConkey, Leopold......now the club leadership.
Buzz Beeler August 20, 2012 at 07:48 PM
You can't have the fox watching the hen house.
Small Businessman August 20, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Yep, Buzz. Agreed. I like the ethics commission model best. Good idea. This legislation is not bi-partisian Leahy, it is a powergrab by two democrats. And before you correct me, Walker may be a registered republican, but when it looks like a liberal, votes like a liberal, responds like a liberal, it IS a liberal. Vote records dont lie and his NO TAX PLEDGE signature does. Leahy needs to rethink supporting a liberal like Walker. It does nothing for our party's credibility. Admitting you didnt even read the legislation -- YOWZA!
Amy Leahy August 20, 2012 at 08:40 PM
@ Sara J - who said anything about Madison, supposed hatred of Leopold, an independent board or the Constitution? My comments specifically addressed whether or not county taxpayers should foot the bill if Leopold is found guilty and has to pay a large settlement. Period. I did not say anything about the rest of what was mentioned in the story. I apologize if my comments seemed inconsistent because I did not disagree with any other part of the legislation that was reported on. So I'll say that I do not agree the County Council should be involved in approving legal settlements (or not). We saw how well the county council handled the Riverdale Baptist Church issue (tongue in cheek on that one). The opinion I expressed regarding who should be footing the bill for the settlement (if there is one) I believe is pretty consistent with Republican values as far as being good stewards of the taxpayer's money. To be very clear, my comments are my own and do not reflect any of the Republican clubs in the area, the Republican Central Committee or the MDGOP.
Go Teaparty August 20, 2012 at 08:45 PM
Pelosi -- I mean Leahy, wants Vitale to replace Leopold. Vitale/Walker signs were all over Crofton in 2010. The connect is obvious, I think. This legislation on the surface protects the taxpayers. In reality, it does not. I hope the other councilmen can see thru these political opportunists. I vote for the ethics model too!
Amy Leahy August 20, 2012 at 08:57 PM
The way I read this article I agree with what these two councilmen are attempting to do, which is save the taxpayers of this county money when an official engages in illegal activities and is found guilty by the court. The fact that the legislation is supported by both a Democrat and a Republican is good because it shows bi-partisanship, which means - in my mind - that this is not just a "witch hunt" against our Republican county executive. I haven't read the legislation so I cannot speak to the specifics of it, but I wholeheartedly agree that the tax paying citizens should not be footing the bill for the county executive's legal defense or settlement if he is found guilty.
Republicans4 RealReform August 20, 2012 at 08:59 PM
Hey Pelosi, try reading legislation before commenting on it. There are gaps and constitutional power issues all over that legislation. Blindly supporting legislation because it claims to save taxpayers is exactly why us republicans fail to score a goal when given the ball. Support of RESPONSIBLE legislation is what we need. Not politically motivated junk legislation with mindless party supporters behind it. Although the need for reform is real, backing the first train coming to the platform is NOT the way I, as a Republican, respond to ANY legislation, claimed pro taxpayer or not. You had a chance as a republican leader to say something intelligent. Instead you focused on anti-Leopold attacks and Benoit/Walker political doublespeak. Real leadership is informed and yes, when you speak in a public forum w/ your name prominent, you leave the readers to think your club thinks the way you do. Next time, start off by disclaiming your comments as independent and please please, try READING the legislation next time. Stupid is as stupid does.........
Buzz Beeler August 20, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Small Businessman, thank you. What judge is going to convict the party that put them in power? Baltimore County has not been investigated since the days of Anderson. That sends a message.
Barbara M August 20, 2012 at 10:11 PM
I believe Madison is who crafted the balance of power between branches of government. If his principles are not relevant to the powers of our executive and legislative branch, then who is? Leahy, you like to put your Republican Club title on photoes, articles, and interviews. Full disclosure is not a high, unrealistic expectation of you. The Patch editor should flag comments or disclaim them for the readers when political leaders are commenting. SPRWC is a part of the MDGOP. I assume Alex Mooney is speaking as the MDGOP, not as himself when he comments. Neither should you. Republicans in AACO need to be minding their P's and Q's, now more than ever and off path goes the leader of one of the largest, most active republican clubs in the state. REALLY?
Buzz Beeler August 20, 2012 at 10:35 PM
Barbara, principles have little to do in politics. The longevity of power does. Thus a independent outside source should decide these issues. If you'll notice Patch runs numerous blogs by government officials and you cannot censure their comments. If they choose to practice disclosure in the comments section better for them. Full disclosure at their convenience or benefit.
hawkeye August 21, 2012 at 03:54 AM
So where are these bills - or legislation - posted in order to read them? I couldn't find them on the county council website.
Nelson Atkins August 22, 2012 at 07:01 PM
That would be government transparancy at its finest. I had to call the council secretary to get the draft before the councilmeeting. It should be on the website now that it is introduced. Council likes to get their story in before the actual language. Trusting Benoit and Walker to tell you it is constitutional and all they put in the bill is never a good idea. Neither are people of their word. They say one thing and do another. Moreso than the others I think. They are dangerous together. I think patch should reuse these pictures. They are more revealing than their glam shots.
Buzz Beeler August 22, 2012 at 08:02 PM
I know the Baltimore County has them. I often refer to them in my blogs. I would suggest calling their info line as ask them. They are there someplace.
Buzz Beeler August 22, 2012 at 08:05 PM
Nelson, it depends on whether it is introduced as as bill or resolution. BC county does not reveal - clean - copies of the final bill. A clean copy is the final version without numerous lines crossed out with a line drawn through them.

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