WELL, WE KNEW that sooner or later the prolonged period of virtue would come to an end in Maryland. The news reported in the paper from Baltimore Tuesday on the sentencing of state Sen. Jerome S. Connell for tax evasion had to hark way back for a precedent to put the thing in context:

Connell, 58, a three-term Anne Arundel County

Democrat, is the first member of the General Assembly to be convicted of a crime since state Sen.

Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's) was sent

to prison for food stamp fraud two years ago.

Seems like only yesterday to some of us, of course, but then as any number of politicians can tell you, time really flies when you do it in Maryland. Perhaps it is because -- like beer and citical sabbaticals in the slammer are something of a tradition, even if the old degree of commitment isn't quite the same these days.

For the record -- Mr. Connell's and Maryland's -- the sentence is a year and a day in prison and a fine of $5,000, and it means automatic suspension from the legislature. Both he and his law partner, Lloyd E. Clinton, who received the same sentence, could be eligible for parole after serving four months. A little more perspective, this time from Mr. Connell himself in a later news report: "Everything's fine. It's all right. It was fair." He did not say whether he would appeal.

Heaven only knows how long it will be before something like this happens again in Maryland. Unlike the return of Halley's Comet, it could take months.