Paul Ebert, 77, has been the commonwealth’s attorney in Prince William County since 1968 and plans to run again. (Victoria St. Martin/The Washington Post)

At the age of 29, Paul Ebert was the youngest commonwealth’s attorney in Virginia.

It’s been 47 years since he first ran for office, in 1968. Since then, there have been 12 terms and he has tried the cases of Lorena Bobbitt — who in 1994 was found not guilty of malicious wounding after cutting her husband’s penis off with a knife — and D.C. sniper John Allen Muhammad, among many others. Ebert also has not faced an opponent in a Prince William County election in at least 20 years.

When the 77-year-old Ebert announced last week that he plans to run again in November, he said that he took some time to think about it. In the end, the love of his work won out.

“I like my job and I’ve never had a day that I fought going to work,” he said. “There’s times when I wonder why I’m doing what I’m doing but it’s about trying to do the right thing. When somebody comes into my office crying because they’ve been a victim of a crime, it touches my heart.”

In nearly half a century, there have only been a handful of contested elections to lead Prince William County’s prosecutions. But this year Ebert, a Democrat, is in for a fight.

Prince William County Board Supervisor Mike May is challenging Paul Ebert for cmmonwealth's attorney. May is Ebert's fifth challenger in 47 years. (Victoria St. Martin/The Washington Post)

Mike May, a 38-year-old attorney and board supervisor for Prince William County, has announced he plans to run against Ebert.

“The job has changed and the responsibility has changed,” said May, a Republican who said he wants to put a more public face on the office.

May said he has a lot of respect for Ebert, who “has been there for quite some time.” He said, though, that there’s “an opportunity to bring a fresh perspective to the office.”

He’s quick to point out Ebert had not yet announced his plans to run for reelection when he kicked off his campaign.

When Ebert was first elected nearly 50 years ago, it was a part-time position with two assistants, May said. It’s now full-time and has a $5 million budget and 22 assistant commonwealth’s attorneys.

“There’s so much going on and it really does require constant oversight,” said May, adding that he wants to modernize the job. He would like to use town hall meetings and social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, to connect with people who have developed a distrust of the criminal justice system.

“We need to make sure that people understand the purpose of the office is to administer justice,” May said.

Ebert said the job takes a deep institutional knowledge.

“I think the citizens need to have good prosecution and there’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “My opponent doesn’t have that experience — I don’t know if he’s ever been in court.”

May, an attorney since 2004, said he’s tried jury and bench trials, as well as handled complex litigation, for his Arlington law firm.

“I’ve been in the courtroom plenty of times,” said May. “I’m sure that Mr. Ebert got many of the same comments when he ran for the office 47 years ago for the first time.”