Prince William County prosecutor Paul Ebert journeyed through the snow to the Virginia General Assembly today to plead for passage of legislation that would allow him to keep his job on a part-time basis.
"I'm between a rock and a hard place trying to decide which way I'll go," Ebert told the House Courts of Justice Committee.
A county prosecutor for 12 years, Ebert has a lucrative law practice on the side and is a powerful figure in Prince William County politics.
Under a bill passed by the Assembly in 1977, Ebert and 29 other part-time commonwealth's attorneys in Virginia must decide by 1980 whether to quit their posts or seek election as full-time county prosecutors. The measure also applies to assistant county prosecutors.
But legislation sponsored this year by Sens. Charles J. Colgan (D-Prince William) and Frederick T. Gray (D-Chesterfield) would allow incumbent prosecutors in their counties -- and any other counties with more than 35,000 residents -- to continue their jobs on a part-time basis if they have had more than 10 years' experience.
The option to run for county prosecutor on a part-time basis would be subject to approval by the voters.
The legislation approved by the Assembly in 1977 was intended to mandate full-time prosecutors by 1980 and to eliminate potential conflicts of interest by those who hold part-time positions now.
Del. Clinton Miller (R-Shenandoah) opposed allowing any exceptions for incumbent prosecutors, saying such legislation would give them an unfair advantage over those who might challenge them in an election.
"You're saying everyone's got to run as a full-time commonwealth's attorney except your man, under this bill," said Miller, referring to Sen. Gray's county attorney, Oliver D. Rudy.
Besides, Miller said, "I think we ought to have full-time county prosecutors everywhere so we don't face a conflict of interest from their private law practices."
Ebert, one of nine incumbent county prosecutors who would be protected by the bill, denied he would have any special political advantage.
In an election, he said, "I can be hit over the head with the fact I'm not going to be a full-time prosecutor. It will be the voters' choice."
Ebert said he understood that the aim of the 1977 legislation was to get more experienced prosecutors, "but the real effect of the measure will be to encourage some of us old fellows not to run again."
The committee is scheduled to take action on the bill Tuesday.