Editor: I am not the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington and Falls Church – but I wanted to be.
In 2011, when Dick Trodden announced his retirement, I saw the opportunity to fulfill a professional dream. Having been a prosecutor in Fairfax for three years, then practicing as a defense attorney in Northern Virginia for 11 years, I decided to run for office. I knew Arlington County and the city of Falls Church, having practiced in all levels of the Virginia court system, and had worked with Theo Stamos when she was a deputy and then when she became chief deputy of the office.
As a prosecutor, Stamos always had been fair to work with. She was always willing to engage with not just defense counsel, but the community as a whole both as a prosecutor and a resident. I had great respect for her then – so much so that when I made the decision to run for office, I made an appointment to see her. I wanted to be the one to tell her directly about my intention to challenge her face-to-face, because as a professional, it was the right thing to do.
The voters disagreed with me in 2011 and elected Stamos. I do not regret for one moment having made the choice to run, nor the choice to challenge her. I continue to regularly practice at all levels of our courts in Arlington and Falls Church, from traffic offenses to serious felonies. I have never feared that there would be a negative consequence for having challenged here. Why? Because Stamos remains the same consummate professional that she always has been.
The notion that defense attorneys have to support Stamos or their clients will suffer the consequences is simply untrue. If anyone is uniquely positioned to make that statement, it’s me – having challenged her directly, I could have easily expected to be treated harshly when I had cases with her office. That may happen in other jurisdictions with other leaders, but Stamos is not just another leader.
My respect for Stamos has grown, rather than diminished, since she has been in office. My law practice takes me to many jurisdictions; her open-door policy is something other offices around the commonwealth should emulate. She is always willing to engage in a dialogue about a case and to truly listen when defense counsel from both the court-appointed and private bar approach her with issues. She has always taken this job seriously, as she should, and her judgment has always been grounded in the law, fairness and with justice for the community in the forefront of her mind.
There are certainly times when we have to agree to disagree, but that is the function of our adversarial system as a whole, not because Stamos is a prosecutor who rides roughshod over defendants when their attorneys want a different outcome.
The narrative that is being pushed by her challenger in this election is not based in the realities of practicing here in this community. That should not be a surprise, as challenger Parisa Tafti has zero experience in our courthouse. She has zero experience working with our courts, our community partners in the criminal-justice system, our law enforcement, or even our local bar association.
Since she was elected in 2011, Stamos has implemented progressive policies that have contributed in making Arlington the public safety success story that it is today. She started Arlington’s drug court for adults, she started Second Chance for juveniles, and Operation Safe Station, all efforts to combat substance abuse in our community. She long has been engaged with Project PEACE which focuses on domestic violence and sexual assault. She is part of the Arlington Restaurant Initiative, which includes a bar-bystander campaign. She works with Arm & Arm, a returning-citizens nonprofit organization. She continues to find ways to partner with community stakeholders to work to make Arlington and Falls Church a safe and fair community for everyone.
Would I like to see more changes that would benefit my clients? Of course I would. But I am a defense attorney and have only my clients’ interests to consider. The job of the commonwealth’s attorney is to balance all of the needs of the entire community, not just defendants.
Not only have I practiced in this legal community for many years, but I have been a resident of Arlington since 1994. My wife and I are proud to be raising our daughters here, knowing that the values of our community are reflected in our leaders.
Without a doubt, Theo Stamos is a leader who embodies those values and has the experience that demonstrates a long commitment to Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. I am proud to support her in her re-election, and I believe that our community should do the same.