Loudoun County Commonwealth's Attorney Robert D. Anderson (R) faces Democratic challenger Jerry L. Johnson in Tuesday's election, bringing to an end the county's most contentious local race.
The candidates have sparred during heated debates and even in the courtroom, with Johnson, 47, a partner at the Leesburg law firm of Johnson, Young & Ault, accusing Anderson of "abuse of power," "misconduct" and "political witch hunts."
Anderson, 52, initially refrained from returning fire, saying he would run on his record from his first term in office. Eventually he entered the fray, charging that Johnson misrepresented the facts and that his allegations "don't meet standards of professionalism or ethics."
Johnson has practiced law in Leesburg since 1984, handling criminal, domestic relations and personal injury cases. He said he believes that Anderson accepts too many plea bargains and is not sensitive enough to crime victims. He criticized Anderson's handling of several recent cases.
Anderson, a former defense lawyer who in 1995 unseated Democrat William T. Burch Jr., dismissed Johnson's barbs as a tactic to "divert attention from his lack of qualifications."
Anderson said that since taking office, he has doubled the number of assistant prosecutors and added computer software that allows the attorneys to track cases more easily.
He also hired an investigator who presents cases to the grand jury, a move he said saves hours in police overtime.
Last year, Anderson won a manslaughter conviction against a Herndon man accused of killing his infant son. His office obtained murder convictions in connection with a 1994 double shooting near Dulles International Airport and the 1978 killing of a Great Falls woman.
Recently, Anderson ordered controversial investigations into the alleged misuse of Leesburg's town credit card and a complaint that Board of Supervisors Chairman Dale Polen Myers, who is running for reelection as an independent, had violated campaign finance laws.
Neither case resulted in a criminal charge; Myers was fined and required to amend her financial report, and the Leesburg probe resulted in the resignation of the town manager and a Town Council member.
Johnson accused Anderson of trying the credit card case in the news media and of being too quick to appoint special prosecutors.
Anderson defended his decisions in both cases, saying he is required by law to seek investigations when he receives information indicating probable cause that something illegal may have occurred.
"When you function in this office, there will be people who don't agree," Anderson said. "You do what has to be done."
The race has been bitter since its start when Johnson announced his candidacy by accusing Anderson of "prosecutor misconduct"--a charge that came to dominate the race--and promising to reveal details as the campaign unfolded.
Anderson said that the term "prosecutor misconduct" is a specific legal term and that Johnson's vague charges tarnish the reputations of lawyers in his office because it suggests actions sanctionable by the Virginia State Bar.
Johnson, who has not filed any reports against prosecutors with the bar, has maintained that misconduct has a broader definition.
"I've given so many examples of what most people would consider to be misconduct," Johnson said. They included the treatment of a burglary victim who said he was not informed of changes in the trial schedule or the fact that the case ended in a plea bargain.
Anderson said that the county's Victim Witness Program, expanded during his tenure, informs victims and witnesses of schedule changes.
He said that if the victim was not informed, he would have been spared his wait in court had he reported to the program's office as instructed in the subpoena.
The attacks have sometimes been personal, with Johnson accusing Anderson of harassing his supporters and Anderson claiming that Johnson inappropriately tried to use his election bid to gain advantage in a criminal case.
An assistant prosecutor reported that during negotiations over the disposition of a traffic case, Johnson told him he might become his "boss in the future." Johnson said the comment was "gratuitous" and occurred only after negotiations had ended.
Anderson responded to the incident by notifying judges that his assistant prosecutors would not handle any cases against defendants represented by Johnson and his firm during the campaign to "avoid a conflict of interest."
Since then, he has handled cases involving the firm's lawyers.
Johnson has said that if elected, he would revamp the Victim Witness Program, create a World Wide Web page for the office and eliminate plea bargains in most serious cases.
"If it's a very severe crime and I believe a man is a threat to the community, I'd take it to a jury," Johnson said.
Johnson said he would follow a zero-tolerance policy for guns and drugs in schools. Anderson said such a policy already is in place.
The incumbent said he would continue to upgrade the office's computer system and work to create a link to computers used by sheriff's deputies so case information could be traded easily.
One thing the candidates agree on is that the biggest challenge for the county's next prosecutor will be equipping the office to handle the growing number of criminal cases.
County prosecutors handle misdemeanor and felony cases investigated by the Virginia State Police, the Loudoun Sheriff's Office, Leesburg, Purcellville and Middleburg police and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police.