Entrenched Prosecution to Shift – Criminal Lawyer Jon Katz Weighs In
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Entrenched ways of prosecuting should change in Fairfax and 2 neighboring counties, says Fairfax criminal lawyer post-election
Entrenched ways of prosecuting in Northern Virginia have been engrained in the Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney’s office, starting with chief prosecutor Robert Horan from the 1960’s and continuing with his successor and former deputy Ray Morrogh; in Arlington, going back to chief prosecutor Helen Fahey from the 1980’s, followed by Richard Trodden and then his preferred candidate Theo Stamos; in Loudoun, through fifteen years with Jim Plowman (soon becoming a Circuit Court judge) and his now short-term successor and interim commonwealth’s attorney Nicole Wittmann; and in Prince William, with Paul Ebert at the helm since the late 1960’s. As a Fairfax criminal defense attorney, I have never defended with an expectation that I would not be dealing with many tough prosecutors, but instead with the knowledge that even the most intransigent-seeming prosecutor can be turned around at times, and that negotiations always must come from a position of strength, because going to trial is essential when negotiations do not accomplish what my client wants.
Even self-styled progressive prosecutors are going to prosecute, but Fairfax and Northern Virginia criminal defendants have a golden opportunity away from entrenched prosecuting with the election results
Almost like dominoes, the chief prosecutor’s races have been won by self-styled progressives / reformers over entrenched prosecutorial candidates in Fairfax County (Steve Descano handily beat Jonathan Fahey, after Descano unseated Morrogh in the primary), Arlington (Parisa Dehgani-Tafti ran unopposed in the general election after unseating Stamos in the primary), and Loudoun (Buta Biberaj unseated Nicole Wittmann, who only last week took over as interim chief prosecutor). In Prince William County, although victor Amy Ashworth does not claim to be a progressive, she supports creating a public defender’s office (long overdue in this courthouse that has one of Virginia’s most busy criminal dockets) and to make her office’s files more open to the defense in accessing the prosecutor’s discovery/ evidence.
Fahey’s and Wittmann’s warnings about eroding safety and George Soros funding fail to carry their candidacies
As a Fairfax criminal defense and DUI defense lawyer, I took it upon myself to blog about this year’s chief Northern Virginia prosecutor races, and posted a few tactful comments on Fahey’s campaign Facebook page (for instance, challenging his claim about safety over politics when commonwealth’s attorneys are by definition highly political, including with pushing their legislative agendas) and Wittmann’s campaign Facebook pages (including challenging her dismissive posting flying in the face of the presumption of innocence, Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and right to sue police who exceed their authority). Wittmann’s campaign aggressively scrubbed dissenting Facebook comments without being transparent by clearly (if at all) announcing that practice.
Justice Forward and other Virginia criminal lawyers stepped forward to support unseating entrenched chief prosecutors
Thanks and congratulations to the lawyers who created and worked with Justice Forward Virginia and beyond to stand up for reversing entrenched prosecution, despite any risks of alienating the very candidates they opposed, had those candidates won. Among these lawyers are Northern Virginia public defender lawyers Brad Haywood, Andrew Elders, and Bryan Kennedy.
Prosecutors still prosecute felony, misdemeanor and DUI cases (but marijuana prosecutions will now be fewer at least in Fairfax and Arlington), so these election victories do not spell paradise rather than new opportunities for criminal defendants and their lawyers in obtaining justice.