In 2020, when Buta Biberaj was sworn in as Loudoun County, Virginia’s first elected female Commonwealth’s Attorney, on a platform of judicial reform, she knew she would face challenges — now, she wants four more years of challenges.
Biberaj, a Democrat, will announce her bid for reelection Monday as Loudoun County’s top prosecutor. Elizabeth Lancaster, a former Deputy Public Defender for Loudoun County has announced she will seek to unseat Biberaj.
“Safety is up, and crime is down,” Biberaj told WTOP. “That’s what people in Loudoun County wanted in 2019, and I believe that’s what they want in 2023.”
Biberaj points to crime data since she has been in office.
“Since 2019, violent crime is down 31% in Loudoun County. In 2021 violent crime went up 7.1% in Virginia, but in Loudoun County it went down 12.5%,” she said.
Biberaj — and Loudoun County — have been at the center of several culture wars cases. She has at times been targeted by Attorney General Jason Miyares, a Republican, who has characterized Biberaj’s handling of cases as soft on crime.
“I have stood against the governor, the attorney general, and I fought for Loudoun,” Biberaj said. “And I’m going to continue fighting for Loudoun.”
In June 2022, Circuit Court Judge James Plowman — a longtime Loudoun County prosecutor — after expressing dissatisfaction with a plea arrangement, yanked the case from Biberaj’s office.
Plowman ordered neighboring Fauquier County to prosecute a man who had been charged in a series of break-ins, and recused himself. Miyares sent a letter to the newly-appointed judge, in a barely-veiled political dig at Biberaj offering the services of the Office of the Attorney General “to either prosecute these cases or assist Fauquier County in such a prosecution.”
The next day, still bristling, Biberaj accused Miyares of overstepping his authority.
“This is a specific message to Attorney General Miyares, stay in your lane,” she said. “Your lane is Richmond.”
In December, Virginia’s Supreme Court agreed with Biberaj, and reinstated her office in the case.
“At the end of the day, the Supreme Court of Virginia said we have a job to do,” she said. “We were elected by the community to do it, and we should be allowed to do it.”
‘Our people are way smarter than that’
Biberaj is not the only focus of Miyares and Youngkin, who were elected on promises of determining why a high school student who had committed a sexual assault against one girl was transferred to another school, where he assaulted a second girl.
Miyares’ ongoing special grand jury investigation of Loudoun County public schools has resulted in indictments of former superintendent Scott Ziegler and spokesperson Wayde Byard, although Miyares’ office — which is prosecuting the cases — has not specified how the charges are related to the sexual assaults.
Biberaj believes most residents in Loudoun County aren’t overly concerned by the special grand jury’s findings.
“At the end of the day, Loudoun still ranks as one of the top systems in the country — not just in Virginia, but the country,” Biberaj said. “Same thing with the criminal justice system.”
“You can listen to all the noise out there, or you can look at the data,” said Biberaj. “The data says safety’s up and crime is down 12.5% within the last year — that’s huge.”
Critics seized on Biberaj’s decision in January that her office will not participate in the prosecution of some misdemeanor cases — traffic offenses and low-level criminal cases that would not involve jail time.
“We’re focusing on victims of domestic violence and sexual assault cases, because those are the most egregious ones,” she said.
Biberaj said critics are quick to oppose progressive reforms, but that hasn’t altered community support.
“It’s a lot of non-issues that people are trying to scream and yell, and make into an issue, but our people are way smarter than that,” Biberaj said.
When she took office, Biberaj said, “we had 425 people in jail on a daily basis and that has reduced to less than 250,” and that the county’s recidivism rate has not increased.
Asked if she believes voters who elected her in 2019 remain confident in her reform goals, and her ability to achieve those goals, she says yes.
“We’re looking at low-level, nonviolent offenders. With appropriate controls allowing them to return into the community pending their trials, they get to keep their jobs, they get to keep their housing, they get to keep their families,” said Biberaj.
“That’s the stabilizing effect — when people are stable, they don’t commit crimes, and there are lesser crimes that are committed. So, I suggest, that’s why safety is up and crime is down — for those reasons.”
Biberaj is scheduled to announce her plans to run for reelection, Monday, 1 p.m., outside Loudoun County courthouse.