Leslie Johnson Takes the Oath of Office

James Wright | 12/8/2010, 5:03 p.m.
Prince George's County Council Bars Johnson from Committees A controversial member of...
Leslie Johnson takes the oath as the Prince George's County Councilmember from District 6 from Prince George's County County Clerk of the Court Marilyn Bland, as her husband, former Prince Georg's County Executive Jack Johnson and other family members watch the ceremony on Mon., Dec. 6.Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

Prince George's County Council Bars Johnson from Committees

A controversial member of the Prince George's County Council took the oath of office recently despite having to face serious federal charges sometime in the future.

Prince George's County Councilmember Leslie Johnson (D-District 6) took her oath at the inauguration of the new County Council which took place at the same time as the swearing-in of the new county executive, Rushern Baker III. Baker, who ran against her husband Jack, in 2002 and 2006 for the Democratic Party nomination for county executive, supported Johnson taking her seat.

"Clearly, legally she should," Baker, 52, commented publicly on the Johnson scandal on TBD NewsTalk with Bruce DePuty on Tue., Nov. 16.

On Fri., Nov. 12, Johnson, 58, and her husband, then Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson were arrested by FBI agents on charges of evidence and witness tampering. An FBI affidavit alleges that Johnson tore up and flushed a $100,000 check down the toilet and attempted to hide $79,600 in cash in her bra with agents at the door.

Since then, there have been attempts by some citizens to ask her to recuse herself from taking the oath of office until the federal charges are dismissed. An online petition has been sent to Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and members of the Maryland General Assembly to try to stop Johnson.

Johnson, a former administrative law judge in the District, is allowed by Maryland law to serve on the County Council unless she is convicted of the charges leveled against her.

"She is innocent until proven guilty and she has a right to take the seat that she rightfully won," Terry Speigner, the former chairman of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee, said.

However, some of her new colleagues, Mary Lehman of District 1, Will Campos of District 2, Eric Olson of District 3, Mel Franklin of District 9 and Andrea Harrison of District 5, all Democrats, have called for her to step down.

"It would help save Prince George's County from further embarrassment, further damage to our reputation," Franklin said on WTOP's "The Politics Program with Mark Plotkin" on Fri., Nov. 19.

The other councilmembers have decided to let events unfold as they may.

"I am very troubled and deeply hurt by the allegations of corruption in Prince George's County," said Prince George's County Councilmember Karen Toles (D-District 7) in a statement released on Tue., Nov. 30. I must refrain from judgment and will refer to the judicial system as the appropriate trier of law and fact."

Johnson is considered the swing vote in the race for the chairmanship of the County Council. The election for the chair of the County Council took place on Tue., Dec. 7.

No member of the County Council would comment on the Johnsons' legal troubles at the ceremony.

All nine members of the County Council were sworn in individually. Johnson was observed smiling when some members, such as Toles, took the oath.

She was also seen with a somewhat unpleasant expression when Harrison was sworn-in.

The actual swearing-in of Johnson was uneventful. She stood next to her husband and a few family members as the oath was being administered by Marilynn Bland, the new Prince George's County Court of the Clerk who has been accused of physically abusing a county employee at an event in November.

After the oath, Johnson signed documents pertaining to her oath, waved at the crowd and sat down. While there were a number of cheers and a lot of murmurs, there were no boos or protests.

Harrison, who was serving as the vice chairman of the Council at the event, did not talk about Johnson's situation. She did however, talk about the integrity of elected officials in an address to the crowd.

"We understand that the offices we hold are a direct consequence of the precious public trust," Harrison, 45, said.

"Your needs are our priority. Do not give up on us county officials but keep the faith."