Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson (R) and his Democratic challenger, lawyer Jerry L. Johnson, squared off in a sometimes heated debate Tuesday night, with Anderson fending off Johnson's attacks on his policies and handling of recent cases.
Speaking to the Leesburg Kiwanis Club at the Lightfoot Cafe, they had a live forum in which to address the issues for which Johnson has sought to gain attention in highly critical, often detailed campaign literature and news releases.
Johnson, 47, a partner at the Leesburg firm of Johnson, Young & Ault, alleged that Anderson has "wasted taxpayer dollars" by improperly handling several cases, including a recent rape case and a high-profile investigation involving alleged misuse of the Leesburg town credit card account.
Anderson, 52, defended his actions and touted changes he has made since taking office in 1995, including doubling the number of assistant prosecutors and installing computer software that allows the attorneys to track cases easily. He said Johnson has made allegations without checking his facts.
The debate topics included:
* A 1997 burglary case involving the theft of a chain saw and other equipment from a Leesburg landscaping business.
Johnson said the victim, Richard Ward, was not informed when the case was delayed and sat for hours at the courthouse before learning of the change. Ward, contacted yesterday, said that when he finally testified at a preliminary hearing, he felt that the value of his stolen equipment was not adequately addressed and asked the judge for permission to address the court.
"There's something fundamentally wrong that citizens have to prosecute their own cases," Johnson said during the debate.
Anderson said Johnson's account of the case was "incorrect." He said ample evidence was presented at the hearing and produced a transcript of the case in which Ward was questioned by Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney Owen D. Basham about two missing pieces of equipment.
Johnson said he had not yet reviewed the transcript of the case and would "look into it further."
* A pending rape case that ended in a mistrial and is scheduled for retrial.
Johnson has alleged "misconduct" by the assistant commonwealth's attorney prosecuting Floyd L. Miles, who is accused of sexually assaulting a 37-year-old Leesburg woman in March.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas D. Horne declared a mistrial in the case June 28 after learning that Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Eric Strom did not disclose information to the defense that both the victim and the defendant had tested positive for herpes.
Assistant public defender Paul Maslakowski, who represents Miles, said he became aware of the tests only when Strom was questioning a police detective.
"We are entitled to any test results, and they are obligated to inform us," Maslakowski said in an interview. "If it's not intentional . . . then it's negligence."
Anderson said the information was not revealed because prosecutors did not plan to use it in their case and found that it was "unduly embarrassing" to the victim. He said prosecutors decided that the information did not fall under discovery requirements because Strom did not have the lab report, only a letter written by a nurse describing the results.
Anderson said the test did nothing to indicate the defendant's innocence. "There was no question that it wasn't exculpatory," he said. "It was a disagreement whether the item fit in the discovery rules. This is one case where the judge disagreed with our decision."
* The investigation into allegations that former Leesburg town manager Steven C. Brown and former Town Council member Joseph R. Trocino misused the town credit card account by charging personal expenses.
The inquiry concluded in March when prosecutors agreed to drop the investigation in return for Brown's and Trocino's resignations and a promise by council members to consider a policy that would bar personal use of the cards. Brown and Trocino have denied any wrongdoing, and Brown said he paid for personal charges on each bill.
"If you did have evidence . . . then you had an obligation to prosecute these individuals," Johnson said at the debate. "If you didn't have the evidence . . . then you had an obligation not to use the power of your office to threaten them and force them to resign from their civic duties."
Anderson said he was required by law to begin an investigation once he was presented with evidence that illegal activity may have occurred.
"It was tough for me to initiate this investigation, but the statute requires it," Anderson said. He noted that Brown and Trocino were asked to appear before a grand jury to tell their sides of the story but resigned instead. "We gave them the opportunity to appear before that grand jury and flatten those issues," Anderson said. "We gave them the opportunity to end it."
* Anderson's former practice of running criminal background checks on potential jurors in some serious cases.
"Our judges have determined there are adequate procedures in place," Johnson said. "You obviously don't trust our citizens."
Anderson responded that felons have lied during jury selection. He has maintained that the checks are needed to ensure that all jurors are qualified and that no felons are seated on a panel. Prosecutors stopped making the checks after defense attorneys complained about them and a judge barred future checks. But Anderson noted that a state law that goes into effect next year will allow the checks.
Before making their first public appearance together Tuesday, Johnson and Anderson have been attacking and counterattacking on paper.
Last month, Anderson sent a letter to Johnson demanding that he back up his claims of misconduct in campaign material.
"The general use of that charge in your brochure creates a potential taint on every attorney in this office," Anderson wrote in the July 27 letter. "My concerns are enlarged by the fact that this office functions in the area of public safety and ostensibly any 'prosecutor misconduct' has a possible effect on the public at large."
Johnson responded with a July 30 letter in which he did not outline any specifics. "Your pretense to be unaware of the misconduct of your office is simply unbelievable, and I will provide the taxpayers during the course of this campaign with other examples of misconduct, abuse of power and waste of taxpayer dollars by your office," Johnson wrote.
Johnson also called Anderson's demand "inappropriate" because it had been written on Commonwealth's Attorney's Office letterhead.
"I trust that you will refrain in the future from diverting taxpayer funded resources from their legitimate role of prosecuting serious crimes."
Anderson said the letter was written as part of his duties as a prosecutor because he believes the allegations could affect his entire staff.
CAPTION: Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson, left, purses his lips as challenger Jerry L. Johnson mounts one of numerous attacks at a debate before the Leesburg Kiwanis Club. Anderson accused Johnson of making unfounded allegations.