Loudoun County changes prosecution process for some misdemeanor cases
LEESBURG, Va. - Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj says in a memo obtained by FOX 5, that her office will stop prosecuting some misdemeanor cases, claiming the office is "inundated" and prosecutors need to focus on violent and felony crimes.
The memo Biberaj sent to judges on Dec. 30 outlining the impacted offenses. They include reckless driving (under 90 mph), hit-and-run (property damage), eluding, trespass, petty larceny, and drunk in public.
Instead, the memo indicates members of law enforcement could prosecute the misdemeanor cases in court and Biberaj tells judges that her office will partner with law enforcement, so they can best present cases.
On Friday, Biberaj held a press conference to discuss the memo, saying it was released prematurely. She also went on to say that the memo was sent out to Loudoun County judges to start a discussion and create more transparency about her office's work.
Biberaj reiterated that the change does not mean that the misdemeanor crimes would not be prosecuted, instead the office is changing how it will prosecute the charges.
"We promised transparency, you want to see what we're doing? Come see what we're doing. You have questions about what we're doing? Ask the questions. It's unfortunate this letter dated December 30, was prematurely released. That's why we have the shock factor as to why people are saying ‘oh my gosh I didn’t know.' You didn't know cause it wasn't your time to know. We invited our general district court judges to have a conversation. How can we do this, and best serve you, and best serve our community."
Biberaj also elaborated on what the next steps would be for her office to make the changes.
"From that conversation, the next step would be to talk to our law enforcement partners, the next step is to talk to our defense bar in our community, and then to be able to share that with the public," said Biberaj.
She added that the Commonwealth's Attorney's Office is "going to continue to investigate how we can make these changes."
In response to the memo Virginia, the Commonwealth's Attorney General Jason Miyares released the following statement:
"Prosecutors cannot cherry pick laws to enforce and laws to ignore - that’s not how our government works, and it establishes a dangerous precedent. Far-left CAs who ignore crime create an environment that only encourages more of it. Virginians deserve better."
The memo indicated that the new approach will take effect for crimes committed after Jan. 16.
"As you may know, with the increase in the trials in Circuit Court and the introduction of body-worn camera and related recordings in each case, the OCA is inundated and left with insufficient time to prosecute every infraction and low-level offense that is charged," the memo reads in part.
Top leaders in the county are just finding out about this, including members of the Board of Supervisors.
"We, the supervisors, literally had somebody send a picture of the memo to us yesterday," said Board Chair Phyllis Randall.
Randall says the board has funded new positions to expand the Commonwealth's Attorney’s Office and says the real issue is that Biberaj cannot retain staff.
People continue to leave, including all the attorneys that were there when Biberaj took office, Randall mentioned.
"Kind of shockingly, many of the people she hired herself in the past three years have also left," Randall said. "So clearly, you know, I don’t believe the issue is anything else but her ability to manage her office."
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Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman said Thursday Biberaj has not contacted him about the change, and he was also just made aware of the memo.
"While we are disappointed in this action by the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, we are doing everything in our power to support our deputies through this transition and will make every effort to ensure that we continue to partner with the community to provide the same great service to everyone in Loudoun County," Chapman said in an emailed statement.
Some argue public safety is at stake. Sean Kennedy heads Virginians for Safe Communities, a group that is attempting to recall Biberaj and other progressive prosecutors. He calls what’s happening a dereliction of duty.
"She has every duty to prosecute the crimes that occur in Loudoun County and her excuse is ridiculous," Kennedy said. "She should be doing her job. If she needs more resources, then explain herself, but just to refuse to prosecute is putting the public at risk."
Attorney Elizabeth Lancaster says this is actually bad policy for those committing these crimes. Lancaster recently announced she’s running against Biberaj in the upcoming Democratic primary. She called the memo disheartening.
"I just anticipate so many people being convicted that maybe shouldn’t be because there’s exculpatory evidence," Lancaster said. "There’s not somebody to advocate to a judge.
This is really a substance-abuse issue, this is a mental health issue, this is not a criminal issue," she continued.
With a challenger now in the race, FOX 5 asked Randall if she will support Biberaj, a fellow Democrat, for a second term.
"I absolutely will not. And I have told her that directly," Randall said.
She said Biberaj then got up and walked away.
Randall says she understands why people in the community would be concerned, but emphasized the board of supervisors has no control over the decision.