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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. 

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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