Weathersbee challenged

GOP candidate questions State's Attorney's record

November 03, 2006|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,sun reporter

State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee tells potential voters that he's been a prosecutor in Anne Arundel County nearly as long as his opponent has been alive.

That's part of the problem, says Dave Fischer, his 36-year-old Republican challenger.

"It comes down to complacency and inaction. That's the choice voters are going to have. I am a lawyer who is aggressive," Fischer said.

Weathersbee, 62, a Democrat, has stressed the innovations in his office, which has been out front statewide on drug treatment courts, mediation to settle disputes out of the courtroom and victim assistance. He maintains that Fischer, who moved to Anne Arundel County in 2002, has his sights on higher office.

"This is just an interim stepping stone for him," Weathersbee said.

Weathersbee is seeking a fifth term as Anne Arundel County state's attorney. With 18 years as the county's chief criminal prosecutor, many local lawyers and residents can't recall a time when someone else ran the office. The current salary for the job is $130,691 a year.

Considered a formidable candidate, Fischer has been trying to put Weathersbee's record on trial, saying that Weathersbee's "excuses are running out." He says that the office, which has an annual budget of $8 million, has botched cases and needs a jolt of energy. The incumbent counters that his office is aggressive and innovative.

Fischer of Severna Park is hoping to turn his 2005 Anne Arundel County courtroom victory in one of the most high-profile and racially divisive cases in recent years to his advantage on Tuesday. He represented one of six young white men charged with manslaughter in the death of a black teenager during a 2004 melee.

Republicans also believe that Weathersbee, who four years ago narrowly defeated a political newcomer who was helped by Gov. Robert. L. Ehrlich Jr., is vulnerable in the conservative-leaning county.

Weathersbee of Crownsville says that he takes no vote for granted and that his mix of pursuing cases in court and working with the community is right for the county. He has received endorsements from The Sun and The Capital.

Both men have been running hard, taking swipes at each other and highlighting their qualifications.

Weathersbee, a Washington native, says he is an experienced prosecutor, policy-maker and administrator. For all but about one year since his 1969 graduation from University of Maryland's law school, he's worked in the county's state's attorney's office. He was appointed to head the office in 1988and ran for election in 1990. He and his wife of 19 years, Pat, each brought two children, now grown, to their marriage. This year, she is venturing into politics, running for the House of Delegates.

Weathersbee said he has actively pushed for legislative changes, including last year's highly publicized change in the law that allows prosecutors to challenge an unfavorable pretrial ruling without risking a homicide case.

His office has become involved in several crime prevention efforts and last year helped to found a race relations council after a spate of suspected hate crimes. Though Fischer contends Weathersbee has lost key cases, Weathersbee said his office obtains convictions in the majority of felony cases brought to court.

Longtime lawyer T. Joseph Touhey said Weathersbee does not exude excitement, but he gets the job done.

"Frank's been around forever and he has the experience and the knowhow," he said. "I see no reason to seek his ouster."

But some attorneys disagree.

"What has Frank done to deserve to stay in power? He's had 18 years to do a better job," said John H. Robinson III, a former prosecutor now in private practice.

Robinson said that Fischer would bring a more hands-on management style to an office in a growing county.

Fischer, a Kentucky native, says he is a go-getter. He opened his private practice on a shoestring budget in Glen Burnie, specializing in criminal defense after graduating from the University of Maryland law school in 1995, and expanded it into a two-lawyer law practice that he manages. His face is familiar in district and circuit courts around the region as well as in Maryland's federal courts. He and his wife of nine years, Cindy, a stay-at-home mother, have two young sons.

Fischer says two criminal cases illustrate the troubles with Weathersbee's office.

He criticized Weathersbee's work in the aftermath of the 2002 killing of businessman and sailing enthusiast Straughan Lee Griffin, 51, carjacked and shot in front of his home a few blocks from the State House in Annapolis. One defendant was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 30 years.

But the case against Leeander Jerome "Sweater" Blake was dropped after state courts said that Annapolis police wrongly questioned him. Blake now faces federal charges in that case.

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