Only on WTOP: Fairfax Co.’s top prosecutor on digging out of courts’ pandemic backlog

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano holds a news conference outside the county courthouse in Fairfax, Va., Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Matthew Barakat)

Fairfax County courts are slowly reopening, but with the new COVID-19 delta variant on the rise, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano is concerned it could further slow justice.

Speaking exclusively to WTOP’s Megan Cloherty, Descano said it’ll take the court and his office months to get through the backlog of hundreds of criminal cases.

“From a prosecutorial standpoint, it is very challenging,” Descano said. “And it’s also frustrating. But what I think of when I think of frustration is not the prosecutors, but for the victims and the witnesses of these cases. We are talking about some of these cases have been pending for a year, a year and a half.”

The court has 368 criminal cases pending, most of them felonies. Only seven of them are misdemeanors waiting for a first hearing, according to Chief Deputy Clerk Suzanne Lubkeman. The chief judge is prioritizing the docket based on incarcerated defendants and taking into account how long the sheriff’s department notes they’ve been in jail awaiting their day in court, she said.

“The courthouse is opening up, we are scheduling more and more of our cases, there are more cases being heard in court every day. But it will likely be months before we get through the backlog of cases that have accumulated during COVID,” Descano said.

Rising COVID-19 cases are complicating matters, too.

“With the delta variant, things are changing rapidly. And I know that myself and all my other partners in justice really are hoping that we can move these cases forward. Because we really do want to bring closure to the victims,” Descano said.

Megan Cloherty

WTOP Investigative Reporter Megan Cloherty primarily covers breaking news, crime and courts.

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