UNITED STATES NEWS

Reform-minded prosecutors in northern Virginia face primary challenges

May 26, 2023, 12:43 PM | Updated: 12:58 pm

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — In the four years since progressive reform prosecutors swept into office across northern Virginia, they have faced constant criticism, ranging from conservatives who deride them as bleeding-heart “ Soros prosecutors ” to judges who claim they abuse their discretion.

Now, as these prosecutors are up for reelection in Virginia’s off-off year elections, the challengers in next month’s Democratic primaries aren’t challenging the reform agenda. Instead, they too are casting themselves as reformers.

Political analysts look to Virginia’s odd-year elections for clues about voter sentiment heading into midterms and presidential years. This year, the prosecutor races may show how voters feel about crime, three years after protests over racial injustice both backlash.

Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington, cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions from a primary that historically draws only a narrow slice of the electorate. Still, he said if voters were to reject reform incumbents, it would be noteworthy.

“If the incumbents can’t persuade that sector of the electorate that the reform agenda is the agenda to pursue, then that’s a warning sign for the Democratic Party,” he said.

Nationally, reform prosecutors have had mixed political success after their initial elections. In San Francisco, voters recalled District Attorney Kim Foxx last month said she won’t seek another term.

But in 2022, reform prosecutors in Larry Krasner, an icon in the criminal justice reform movement, won a second term.

The Virginia races, meanwhile, may provide more insight into the views of suburban voters. The primary challengers, thus far, are embracing the reform agenda. Even Ed Nuttall, who is running as a “common sense” Democrat and is best known for representing police officers charged with misconduct by the reformers now in office, has sought to embrace the mantle of reformer.

“Sure, why not?” Nuttall said when asked whether he considers himself a reformer.

He said he supports efforts to find alternatives to jail for nonviolent offenders dealing with addiction and mental health issues.

The problem, according to Nuttall and the other primary challengers, is mismanagement of day-to-day affairs. They cite turnover in the offices and criticism levied by crime victims and judges that cases have faltered because prosecutors have failed to follow procedure.

“There’s a lot of frustration in the courthouse with everyone about how these cases are being handled,” Nuttall said.

Nuttall’s opponent, Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, who won four years ago after knocking off a longtime incumbent, said the mismanagement critiques are off base. While there have been hiccups, he said critics fail to recognize the massive overhaul his office has undertaken.

“It takes more than one term to undo decades of bad policy, decades of injustice,” Descano said.

Nuttall’s race against Descano is one of three in northern Virginia, the wealthy suburban area outside the nation’s capital. In Arlington County, closest to the District of Columbia, Josh Katcher is challenging his former boss, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti. And in the outer suburbs of Loudoun County, attorney Elizabeth Lancaster is challenging incumbent Buta Biberaj.

Incumbents say the challengers’ effort to paint themselves as reformers rings hollow. In Loudoun County, Biberaj says her opponent’s support comes from Republicans who have sought to block reforms.

“We’ve actually done the work since coming into the office,” Biberaj said. “So when you’ve got these challengers saying, ‘I am a true reformer,’ — well, what have you done?”

Lancaster said her reform credentials are solid. She worked as a public defender for more than a decade and served on a task force that overhauled the prosecution of juveniles. She said she was recruited to run by members of the county bar who are frustrated with mismanagement in the prosecutors’ office.

“As an 18-year Loudoun County attorney, it’s embarrassing, and it gives criminal justice reform a bad name and it pisses me off,” she said.

The incumbents are facing criticism not just from their opponents but in many cases from the judges in their own courthouses. In Arlington County, some judges require Dehghani-Tafti’s prosecutors to file written briefs outlining why they are dropping charges against defendants, a time-consuming process that she says infringes on her discretion.

Dehghani-Tafti said the answer is not to replace her, but the judges.

“Get a new bench,” she said, noting that two of her deputies have now been chosen to serve as judges in Arlington.

Her opponent, Katcher, has faulted Dehghani-Tafti for an inability to build relationships with judges, police, and with her own staff that has thwarted real reform.

“I have both the experience and the relationships to deliver real reform and real justice,” he said at a debate last month.

United States News

Associated Press

Private US spacecraft enters orbit around the moon ahead of landing attempt

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A private U.S. lunar lander reached the moon and eased into a low orbit Wednesday, a day before it will attempt an even greater feat — landing on the gray, dusty surface. A smooth touchdown would put the U.S. back in business on the moon for the first time since […]

21 minutes ago

James Biden, brother of President Joe Biden, accompanied by Attorney Paul Fishman, left, arrives fo...

Associated Press

James Biden appears for GOP interview as FBI informant’s arrest casts new doubt on impeachment

WASHINGTON (AP) — James Biden arrived for a private interview Wednesday on Capitol Hill as part of House Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into his brother, President Joe Biden. The interview with the younger Biden is the latest in a series that GOP lawmakers have conducted recently as they seek to rebuild momentum for an impeachment process […]

26 minutes ago

Nia Thomas stands in front of her Atlanta home on Feb. 14, 2024. Thomas was bailed out of jail by t...

Associated Press

Churches and nonprofits ensnared in Georgia push to restrict bail funds

ATLANTA (AP) — When she was behind bars in Georgia, Nia Thomas would use toothpaste to stick handwritten flyers to the wall and spread the word about community bail funds that could pay inmates’ bonds, no strings attached. “I was posting the phone numbers in everybody’s rooms, everybody’s dorms, every jail I went to,” Thomas […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Alice Paul Tapper to publish picture book inspired by medical misdiagnosis

NEW YORK (AP) — The new book from bestselling author Alice Paul Tapper, daughter of CNN anchor Jake Tapper, was inspired by a near-fatal health emergency. “Use Your Voice,” with illustrations by Fanny Liem, is a fictionalized take on Alice’s hospitalization in 2021 after she experienced intense stomach pain, chills and vomiting — what turned […]

1 hour ago

Associated Press

Stock market today: Wall Street dips lower as markets wait for Nvidia earrnings, Fed meeting minutes

Wall Street inched lower early Wednesday while markets waited for Nvidia’s quarterly earnings release, which could serve as a litmus test for the AI chip revolution. Futures for the S&P 500 dipped 0.3% before the bell and futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2%. Nvidia’s report, which will come out later in the […]

9 hours ago

FILE - An orca swims past a recreational boat sailing just offshore in the Salish Sea in the San Ju...

Associated Press

To keep whales safe, Coast Guard launches boat alert system in Seattle

SEATTLE (AP) — Photographer Matt McDonald had lived on Puget Sound for years, but had never seen a whale, so he was elated when he spotted a giant marine mammal just off Seattle’s waterfront one evening. The excitement was short-lived. As McDonald tracked the whale in his camera’s viewfinder, a state ferry that dwarfed the […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

...

FanDuel

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Reform-minded prosecutors in northern Virginia face primary challenges