Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Pettitt stays in Montgomery County commonwealth's attorney job
She stepped into the commonwealth's attorney job in June, then defeated Peggy Frank in Tuesday's election.
Photos by Matt Gentry | The Roanoke Times
Mary Pettitt laughs with supporters in Christiansburg on Tuesday.
Peggy Frank greets supporters in Christiansburg while waiting for election results. Pettitt bested Frank in the election for Montgomery County commonwealth's attorney.
CHRISTIANSBURG — Mary Pettitt became the first woman elected as Montgomery County commonwealth's attorney Tuesday, retaining a job she stepped into on a temporary basis last summer.
A Republican who had worked as an assistant prosecutor for eight years in Montgomery County, Pettitt, 46, couldn't claim victory until late Tuesday because a precinct that included Virginia Tech's campus and its student housing took hours to report results.
"I look forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Montgomery County," Pettitt said when the last figures came in, adding that she was grateful for support from law enforcement and the overall community.
Pettitt became commonwealth's attorney in June, when then-top prosecutor Brad Finch was sworn in as a Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judge.
Tuesday's special election was for the remaining three years of Finch's term. Pettitt was challenged by Democrat Peggy Frank, 57, an assistant prosecutor in Pulaski County and before that, Montgomery County.
"I thought we gave it our best effort," Frank said after results arrived.
Throughout the campaign, the two candidates clashed over the direction and philosophy of the prosecutor's office. Pettitt argued that it was working well and did not need significant changes, and Frank countered that computerizing records and revising the collections process for unpaid fines and court fees would lead to greater efficiency and savings for taxpayers.
Frank's campaign hit a bump after a League of Women Voters candidate forum in Blacksburg last month. Asked by Pettitt when her last jury trial was, Frank answered that it was in 2000. Pettitt told the moderator that her own most recent jury trial was in June. She promptly incorporated Frank's answer into her campaigning, asking on Facebook if voters really wanted to elect a prosecutor who had not taken a case to a jury in a dozen years.
Three days later, Frank issued a statement saying she had misunderstood Pettitt's question and actually had prosecuted a jury trial in February. But after a few more days, and questions from Pettitt, Frank said the February case had ended with a plea before a jury heard it, and said the last time she argued a case in front of a jury was in November 2009.
Frank said she did not think it mattered precisely when she had last presented a case to a jury, saying her experience included all manner of charges and trials. Pettitt, however, said the changing answers pointed to problems with her opponent's integrity.
On Tuesday night, though, Pettitt said she did not think the contest with Frank had been particularly rough.
"The voters did focus in on what the core responsibility of that office is," Pettitt said. "And that is strong prosecution."