Accusations fly at county state's attorney debate

Maryland Votes 2006

October 06, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

The Anne Arundel County state's attorney and his challenger sharply criticized each other at their first debate, with Frank R. Weathersbee saying David W. Fischer is pursuing the job only as a steppingstone to higher office and Fischer contending that Weathersbee's leadership is failing the public.

Fischer, a Republican criminal defense lawyer, is campaigning against Weathersbee, a Democrat who has been the county's prosecutor since 1988.

Anne Arundel's voter registration slightly favors Weathersbee, but Republicans have been elected to a variety of county offices and the county is considered increasingly conservative.

The two clashed last year when Fischer and his law partner won a high-profile acquittal of a youth accused of killing a teenager outside a Pasadena party.

On Wednesday, both candidates came out swinging at the sparsely attended midday debate at Anne Arundel Community College.

Weathersbee said Fischer, an unsuccessful candidate for Congress four years ago who has since moved to Severna Park, has his sights set on offices higher than that of a county prosecutor.

"He moved here specifically to run for state's attorney," Weathersbee said.

Fischer countered that his law office of more than a decade has always been in Glen Burnie, and that he was a former Anne Arundel County resident who returned from Baltimore County for the quality of life.

Fischer said Weathersbee neither regularly observes his prosecutors in the courtroom nor tackles cases on his own, leaving him out of touch. He also said that Weathersbee's decision not to regularly send prosecutors to assist police at crime scenes has led to botched cases.

He blamed the failure of the state's attorney's office to bring Leeander Jerome Blake to trial for the 2002 carjacking and killing of businessman Straughan Lee Griffin on not having a prosecutor at the Annapolis police station after Blake was arrested. Blake, courts have ruled, was improperly interrogated. Fischer said federal authorities, who recently charged Blake in the crime, "had to come in and take over the case."

He said it was so routine for prosecutors elsewhere to go to the scenes of serious crimes in other jurisdictions that he would withdraw his candidacy if proved wrong on that point.

Weathersbee said that after a homicide, police regularly contact one of his deputies, who is available to help if police ask them to.

A prosecutor, Weathersbee said, can "get in the way" and stands to "become a witness" by going to the scene. In the Griffin case, Weathersbee said, his chief investigator, not a prosecutor, went to the crime scene.

A prosecutor, Weathersbee said, could not have foreseen the problem in the Blake case. In a holding cell, the teenager refused to speak to police without a lawyer, which should have ended police efforts to question him. But an officer not connected with the case said, "I bet you want to talk now, huh?" after Blake was given charging paperwork that said his alleged accomplice implicated him and wrongly said he was facing the death penalty.

Weathersbee defended his management of the $8 million office of more than 70 employees, saying his time is better spent supervising his lawyers and working with them behind the scenes than personally handling cases, in part because weeks spent preparing for trial and in a courtroom take valuable time away from his main role.

"It is the largest law firm in Anne Arundel County. I manage it and I manage it well," Weathersbee said.

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