Controversial Loudoun prosecutor Buta Biberaj on verge of defeat as counting continues

By: - November 9, 2023 8:04 pm

A Northern Virginia precinict worker hands a voter an 'I Voted' sticker after casting their ballot. (Nathaniel Cline/Virginia Mercury)

Incumbent Democrat Buta Biberaj, one of several progressive prosecutors to take office in Virginia four years ago, on Thursday was trailing Republican Bob Anderson by about 1,000 votes in the race for Loudoun County commonwealth’s attorney.

While Anderson, who served as Loudoun’s chief prosecutor from 1996 to 2003, on Wednesday said on X that “there is no current path to victory for Buta Biberaj,” Biberaj has not conceded.

“This is one of the closest races in Virginia, and we will ensure that every Loudoun voter has their voice heard in the democratic process,” said Biberaj. 

Loudoun, she added, is “a swing county, and it’s no surprise that results are close. We will monitor the ongoing canvass process to protect everyone’s voting rights.”

Others were more skeptical of her prospects. 

“Loudoun County had enough of treating victims like criminals and letting repeat, violent offenders off easy,” said Miyares on X Wednesday afternoon. “They wanted a prosecutor who puts the needs of the county before their political agenda — and that’s why they fired Buta Biberaj last night.”

On Thursday morning, Anderson, who campaigned on “prioritizing justice, fairness, and community safety” and “bringing the criminal justice system in Loudoun County back on track,” was leading Biberaj by 1,021 votes. Loudoun’s elections office said at least 2,500 provisional and mail-in ballots are being reviewed before counting ends on Monday. 

State law allows any candidate to request a recount if the results are within one percentage point of each other.

Biberaj has been a polarizing figure since her 2019 election, fielding criticism from members of both parties over her competence and prosecutorial decisions. While other progressive prosecutors in Fairfax and Prince William counties and Norfolk city have faced similar criticisms, Biberaj is the only one on the verge of being ousted. 

Republicans have denounced Biberaj as soft on crime, pointing especially to her decision at the beginning of 2023 to divert low-level misdemeanors and nonviolent charges to police for prosecution rather than involving the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, a move she defended as necessary to allow the office to focus on violent crimes. 

Conservative group Virginians for Safe Communities led an unsuccessful charge to recall Biberaj in the past year, accusing her of “neglect of duty, misuse of office, and incompetence in the performance of her duties.” With Fight for Schools, a PAC focused on parents’ rights, the organization also filed a complaint with the Virginia State Bar over alleged misconduct in a series of burglary cases. 

Biberaj also received some backlash for trying a disorderly conduct case involving Scott Smith, the parent of a high school student who was sexually assaulted in what became a high-profile case. Smith was arrested and later convicted for arguing loudly during a school board meeting, clenching his fist and later threatening to kick in the teeth of deputies who carried him out of the building, an episode that became a key moment for members of the “parental rights” movement. Smith was later pardoned by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

“We’ve done everything possible to try to make Loudoun County a better place, and the voters can either get it right or get it wrong,” Smith said. “It’s up to them, and whatever they decide is what Loudoun gets.”

Not all complaints have come from the opposite side of the political aisle. Some Democrats, including Loudoun Supervisor Kristen Umstattd, who backed Biberaj’s opponent Elizabeth Lancaster in the June primary, have also voiced frustration with the commonwealth’s attorney.

Umstattd said she believed Biberaj had allowed multiple violent offenders out of jail, including one who killed his wife with a hammer while released prior to trial.

“I want a commonwealth’s attorney who will keep violent individuals in jail, not let them out. … Second, I want someone competent in the position,” Umstattd said. I don’t have any questions that Bob Anderson would be very competent. He is someone who believes in fairness, but he will aggressively prosecute cases where that needs to happen, and Buta was very lackadaisical on the prosecution. It almost was as if she was an arm of the public defender rather than being the commonwealth’s attorney.”

Biberaj has also racked up strong support, with endorsements from federal and state Democrats including U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, who called her “a champion for justice and equality in Loudoun,” and state Sen. John Bell, who praised her for saving taxpayer dollars and prioritizing victims of violent crimes.

“Buta has ensured the safety of our county for the past three years and I have no doubt she will continue to do just that once re-elected,” Bell said in a February statement.

Biberaj for her part has argued that violent crime has significantly decreased in Loudoun, pointing to data from the 2021 Virginia State Police Crime Report showing a 31% drop from 2019 to 2021 even as it increased statewide. She has also noted the expansion of the county’s special victims unit, which has tripled from two to six attorneys, and said her office’s approach to property crimes and misdemeanors has led to a decrease in daily incarceration counts from 425 to 250 people, resulting in significant taxpayer savings. 

Heather Gottlieb, a Loudoun resident who described herself as a solutions architect, on Election Day said not keeping Biberaj’s administration would be a step backward.

“We don’t want to go backward. We are all human beings, and throwing people in jail is not the answer,” Gottlieb said. “If there are people who have done egregious things and harmed others and things like that, obviously they need to pay for their crimes, but just throwing people in jail is not the right thing to do for Loudoun County.”


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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.