When Vonzell R. Ward was growing up in northern Calvert County, he longed to be a cop. When he turned 18 in 1974, he and two friends from Calvert High School -- including Sheriff Mike Evans -- suited up for the Maryland State Police.

Seven years later, a car accident with a drunk driver ended Ward's promising career as a trooper, but the lanky former patrolman found his way back to the streets when he was elected Calvert sheriff in 1994. Once again, he was often seen directing traffic or running radar on Route 4.

Now Ward, once a respected state trooper and a popular politician, finds himself on the other side of law enforcement.

Today at about 1 p.m., Ward is scheduled to appear in District Court in Prince Frederick on misdemeanor charges that he allegedly leaked confidential sheriff's office documents to the news media during last year's sheriff's campaign in which he was a candidate.

Sources familiar with the case said Ward will plead guilty, though the details of the plea agreement remain known only to Ward, the judge and the lawyers involved. None of them would comment. Sources said Ward will not face any jail time.

Ward, 46, of North Beach, is charged with two counts of misdemeanor theft, one count of destroying a public record, and three counts of illegally disclosing personnel records of the sheriff's office.

Ward could also change his mind at the last minute and opt for a trial. Since the charges were filed on Aug. 29, Ward has denied them unequivocally. He said the investigation was "another attempt to discredit me."

"If I wasn't a candidate, there wouldn't be an investigation," Ward said just before charges were filed.

Though this is the first time Ward has been charged with a crime, he has faced serious allegations before. And the story that puts Ward in a courtroom today begins long before any confidential documents found their way to the media.

It started in July 2000 as a minor office scandal with a rookie deputy who happened to be a prote{acute}ge{acute} of then-sheriff Ward. Keith L. Helwig, then 22, was accused of harassing his girlfriend after they had fought; he alleged he pursued her in his patrol car, stopped her three times and wrote her a bogus traffic ticket.

Helwig was forced to resign. But according to the ex-girlfriend, Sherry Grierson, Ward and another deputy exacted revenge two months later by pulling her over for no reason, wrongfully detaining her, then writing her a ticket for crossing the shoulder line after she passed a blood-alcohol test. Ward acknowledges that he and Grierson "encountered each other over the course of that evening," but denies writing her a ticket or pulling her over.

The incident prompted a Maryland state prosecutor investigation that eventually led Ward to resign in May 2001.

Ward did not speak publicly in Calvert for more than a year before he announced his candidacy for sheriff in July 2002. Though he held a news conference to address concerns about the incident with Grierson, Ward was a quiet candidate who did little campaigning and issued no political releases.

Then, about 5 p.m. Aug. 8, three newspapers, including The Washington Post, received a fax with Office of the State Fire Marshal letterhead. It was a three-year-old complaint filed by Deputy Fire Marshal Don Brenneman, also a candidate for sheriff, alleging that his ex-girlfriend, sheriff's Lt. Sheila Welling, assaulted him three times and pointed her department-issued handgun at him.

A second page of the fax, with no letterhead, is a typed, unsigned commentary, stating that Welling's actions were covered up by anti-Ward members of the sheriff's office command staff because she was also politically opposed to Ward.

A week later, after a story about the fax appeared locally, the sheriff's office started an investigation that eventually led to Ward. According to charging documents, Ward gave the letters to a Dunkirk store clerk to fax.

In a search of Ward's home, detectives found a handwritten letter that had "similar contents" as the typed commentary sent to the newspapers, according to charging documents. They also found dozens of other sheriff's office documents and a typewriter with keys that matched the lettering on the typed commentary, sources said.

Ward finished third in the Republican primary. Today, his status as an ordinary citizen will be highlighted by those around him in District Court, a daily parade of regular people charged with ordinary offenses such as drunken driving or smoking marijuana.

Ward, though, says his political career is not over. And even in a District Court appearance three months ago, Ward stood out, wearing a stylish dark blue suit amid a sea of stone-washed jeans and white T-shirts.

"It's too soon to say yea or nay," Ward said of his political fortunes last September. "I will always be active. A lot can happen in four years."

VONZELL R. WARD