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Two seek commonwealth's attorney job in Culpeper County
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BY DONNIE JOHNSTON
This has been a tumultuous year for law enforcement in Culpeper.
From a town police shooting in early February to the Michael Hash murder conviction being set aside later that month, to the more recent state and federal investigation involving the town police, the Culpeper County Commonwealth's Attorney's Office has found itself challenged and often in the middle of the fray.
In fact, the Nov. 6 special election to elect a new commonwealth's attorney resulted from one of those controversies--the Hash case.
Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Close abruptly resigned as he was beginning his sixth term, following a federal judge's decision to set aside Hash's 2001 conviction in the death of Thelma Scroggins. That ruling came with a scathing opinion that was highly critical of local law enforcement, especially Close's office.
Now Republican Paul Walther, who was named to replace Close in March, and independent Megan Revis Frederick are vying for that office in what has been a hard-fought and often contentious campaign.
Frederick, who grew up in Culpeper and graduated from Culpeper High, quit her job with the state Attorney General's Office in Richmond and moved back to her family home to run for the prosecutor's post. From the beginning, she has stated that she wants to return integrity to the office.
Walther, who grew up in Philadelphia and moved to Culpeper in 1989, contends that there is already integrity in that office, where he has worked as an assistant commonwealth's attorney since 1993. "Everyone in that office has integrity," the 58-year-old said.
He points out that he has been a lawyer for more than 30 years, while maintaining that Frederick has no experience as a courtroom prosecutor.
"The workload is picking up," he said. "There are more homicides now than there have been in years. The job is more complicated now."
Frederick, 40, contends that she has had courtroom experience in civil trials in her two-year legal career, most of it while working for a private law firm before spending less than a year with the A.G.'s Office.
"If experience is the issue, then where was that experience during the Michael Hash trial?" Frederick asked, pointing out that Walther was part of the prosecution both in court and during preparation of that controversial case.
Walther has the backing of the vast majority of Culpeper attorneys, a point that bothers Frederick.
"I was the only attorney willing to run against a man who actively participated in that [Hash] trial," she said.
She added that she is also perturbed by the increasing number of plea bargains being made by the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office.
"All I care about is a fair trial," Frederick said.
Both candidates say they will be able to work smoothly with the Sheriff's Office and the town police.
"I want to help improve the system," Frederick said.
"I'm an experienced prosecutor and I love doing my job," Walther said.