Anne Arundel's longtime top prosecutor closes the case

He's come out on top in six contested elections as a Democrat in an increasingly conservative county, and has withstood criticism that he's both too soft and too tough, appeased minorities and disappointed minorities, said too little and said too much.

He's been on the job a quarter-century, long enough to get his typewriter replaced by a computer with a flat-screen monitor, see defendants' locations pinpointed by cellphone towers and have DNA emerge as a key tool in criminal cases.


None of those advances had crossed his mind in 1988, when he went from deputy state's attorney to chief prosecutor in Anne Arundel County.

"I hate to leave," Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee said recently as he looked around his office. "It's a job I really enjoy."


But the 69-year-old career prosecutor said he was ready for a lower-key position, one with no election. Come Wednesday, he will have a new office — windowless and half the size of the one he is vacating — as he begins work on the state parole commission. He sought, and won, the appointment by Gov. Martin O'Malley. Anne Colt Leitess, 49, a career prosecutor, was named Thursday as his successor.

Those who've worked with Weathersbee say the soft-spoken prosecutor will be remembered not for his obvious distaste for political campaigning (he said six contested elections were enough), nor for his refusal to pursue more state inmate crimes until the state coughed up a contribution toward costly prosecutions (it did, briefly), nor for the fact that he has not personally handled cases in more than a decade (that's why he has a staff, he said).

Instead, he'll be remembered for his role in programs that escape the public's eye, namely helping crime victims and pushing for drug courts. Weathersbee said both are among his most "rewarding" work.

"We have developed the largest victim advocacy and witness unit of any state's attorney's office in the state," Weathersbee said.

That unit includes 14 employees who help victims and witnesses through the courts and direct them to other services. Of plaques on his office wall, Weathersbee said the most meaningful is the State Board of Victim Services recognition he received in 2000 for leadership in victims' rights.

"He has the drive of a traditional prosecutor, but his job is to do justice, and part of justice is doing things for crime victims," said Russell P. Butler, executive director of the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center, based in Upper Marlboro.

Weathersbee, he said, was the voice of prosecutors on a task force to implement crime victims' constitutional rights, which worked to create a way for victims to be present and heard at the trials affecting them, Butler said. What emerged was a form and a process that follows each case, so agencies know how to contact victims and keep them in the loop.

"It is sort of the linchpin of how crime victims' rights work — because if they don't have notice, how can they exercise those rights?" Butler said.


Butler also recalled Weathersbee asking him to step in when he thought a judge was trampling on the rights of the families of two murder victims; before the appeal was heard, the judge changed her earlier decision.

"I have nothing but praise for the guy, and that's even though he took shots at me," said Joseph P. Manck, a retired Anne Arundel County Circuit and District Court judge, referring to Weathersbee's criticism of sentences he thought too light.

"He was invaluable for the courts. He pushed for the drug courts and he pretty much opened it up to anybody who was interested. He was willing to take a chance on people," Manck said.

Weathersbee said that with 80 percent of crimes rooted in addiction — and seeing drug courts work elsewhere — he talked them up for Anne Arundel's courts. The first one in the county began in 1997 in District Court, diverting defendants into treatment, and expanded into circuit and juvenile courts.

State statistics for 2011-2012 show that in the county's Circuit Court drug court, 31 people were booted out, but 34 graduated.

"We actually can salvage some lives that otherwise would be in and out of prison by getting them off drugs and getting them clean, and getting them employed," Weathersbee said.


"His support for drug treatment courts has assisted a number of county residents in their battle against the pains and evils of addiction," said District Public Defender William M. Davis.

Weathersbee has come under fire from some African-Americans, notably for his office's handling — and loss — of a high-profile 2005 manslaughter case in which the victim was a black teenager and the accused was white. He was also criticized for having few minority prosecutors, said civil rights activist Carl O. Snowden.

Weathersbee said he hires the best applicants; sometimes they're minorities, sometimes they're not. The office currently has three black prosecutors among five minority attorneys.

Weathersbee won his 2010 election by just under 3 percentage points, the only time when his Republican challenger was an African-American lawyer, but generally has had higher margins of victory. Snowden supported Weathersbee.

Republicans have complained about Weathersbee for decades, alleging that his office botched cases and saying it plea-bargained about 95 percent of its cases. Weathersbee sloughed off the criticism.

Dan Nataf, who heads the Center for the Study of Local Issues at Anne Arundel Community College, said short of a big scandal, courthouse officeholders typically retain their positions.


"It was easy to remember he has a sign with a little bee in it, and a good sign presence in the county. It didn't seem like there was any compelling reason to get rid of him," Nata said.

A prosecutor since 1969, Weathersbee was named by the county's Circuit Court judges to replace his charismatic boss, Warren B. Duckett Jr., who was appointed to the bench. He concedes that Duckett, who has since died, was far more effervescent than he is. Many attorneys agree.

"He is not a charismatic guy, but he is an excellent administrator," said criminal defense attorney John H. Robinson III, whose disputes with Weathersbee led him to quit his prosecutor's job well over a decade ago.

Weathersbee acknowledged that he's mellowed since he was a young prosecutor. His former TR4 sports car is a fond memory; he drives a Toyota Avalon sedan these days.

His pursuits have become less active from decades ago, when he organized a state's attorney softball team and played shortstop. And he quit sailing decades ago: "I have run aground almost every place you can run aground in the Chesapeake Bay," he said.

He used to play golf, but that fell away in favor of golf on a computer in the Crownsville home he shares with his wife, Patricia. He also plays an air traffic controller game in which "I don't lose many planes," he said.


Weathersbee also loves a game that allows him to sink ships in World War II, and he says his failure to ever win as the South in a Civil War game — though he often wins as the North — has left him amazed that "the South was able to hang on so long."