Equal Justice? ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

October 11, 1993

The Anne Arundel County state's attorney's office under Frank Weathersbee has not exactly bolstered our faith in the justice system lately.

Last month, a man charged with attempted murder went free thanks to a prosecutor not scheduling his trial fast enough. Judge Eugene M. Lerner was livid, but Mr. Weathersbee simply said of his assistant, "I'm not going to shoot him because he made a mistake." And last week, Assistant State's Attorney Gerald K. Anders (not the same prosecutor who made the scheduling goof) found himself in court as a defendant, charged with drunken driving. (Coincidentally, those charges initially were omitted from his file due to a "clerical error.")

Mr. Anders, who was convicted of driving drunk in 1983, got off lightly this time. A Baltimore judge cleared him of all but a minor traffic violation. And Mr. Weathersbee gave him his job back, saying, "What am I going to do, fire him for having an alcohol problem?"

We are not saying he should have been fired; Mr. Anders was, after all, acquitted. But one expects the county's top-ranking law enforcer to show more indignation and less apologizing when his deputies make serious mistakes. In Mr. Anders' case, he had an added obligation to demonstrate that a double standard -- one for insiders, another for the rest of us -- does not exist when it comes to matters such as drinking and driving. Is Mr. Weathersbee as forgiving toward other accused drunken drivers with prior convictions who refuse to take Breathalyzer tests, as did Mr. Anders? We doubt it.

A temporary suspension would have been appropriate in this case. Yet Mr. Weathersbee did not even require that Mr. Anders stay away from booze to keep his job until GOP state's attorney candidate John Greiber raised a stink. Mr. Weathersbee's statement, "I do not take the incident lightly," came a day late, obviously prompted by political pressure rather than real outrage.

If law enforcement leaders want to be seen as fair and tough on crime, they can't wink and nod and go all mushy when their colleagues mess up. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system in Anne Arundel County -- and the police are even more guilty of this than Mr. Weathersbee's office -- seems to have a softer spot for its own people than for everyone else.

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