The race for St. Mary's County state's attorney pits two prosecutors with a history of bad blood.

One is the Republican incumbent, Richard D. Fritz. The other is the Democratic challenger, Alan V. Cecil, a former St. Mary's prosecutor who was one of the first people Fritz fired when he took office four years ago.

The campaign has addressed few legal issues, with the focus mainly on the personal.

Fritz has said he fired Cecil, now a Prince George's County assistant state's attorney, because of his "incompetence" and has questioned his level of experience in trying cases before a jury. Fritz has also pointed to a 1998 worker's compensation claim that Cecil filed in which he partially attributed his heart problems to stress from his job.

"We need to look at his physical condition, his obvious lack of experience in the courtroom, then . . . ask the question, if he's incapable of being in the courtroom, then how could he legitimately expect to be able to lead a battery of attorneys," Fritz said.

Cecil counters with one of his campaign slogans, "Character Counts," and says voters should consider Fritz's guilty plea to having sex with a minor in the 1960s. In 1965, at the age of 18, Fritz pleaded guilty to carnal knowledge of a minor, a misdemeanor. The issue came up during the 1998 election, and Fritz later played down the incident during an interview with the ABC news magazine "20/20."

Cecil recently offered a caustic reply to Fritz's questions about his experience level. "I don't have the experience Richard Fritz does in pleading guilty to [having sex with] a 15-year-old school girl with two other guys and then almost 28 years later, bragging about it on national TV, stating, 'It happens all the time,' " Cecil wrote in his column in the weekly newspaper, St. Mary's Today.

Fritz said the incident was in the distant past and accused Cecil of "getting down in the gutter."

Cecil grew up in Baltimore County before going to college in North Dakota in the 1960s. A knee injury kept him out of the Vietnam War-era draft, and he quickly became involved in politics, working on a U.S. Senate campaign in 1968.

Cecil says he has plenty of courtroom experience, including his work as a lawyer in Annapolis, his years in the U.S. Attorney General's Office in the Virgin Islands, and his brief tenure as a St. Mary's County assistant prosecutor. As assistant state's attorney in Prince George's, Cecil has worked on an acclaimed warrant task force that hunts down fugitives.

Fritz grew up in St. Mary's County and made a name for himself in the 1980s for prosecuting drug dealers as a deputy state's attorney. He spends more time in the courtroom than any other state's attorney in Southern Maryland, and his desk features a foot-high stack of files from current narcotics cases he is working.

In his time as state's attorney, Fritz says, crime has dropped from all-time highs in the mid-1990s.

"We have started targeting those career criminals," Fritz said. "We work on the proposition that 10 percent of the people cause 90 percent of the crime. We go after them and that has had a substantial impact on crime."