Two candidates are vying for the Commonwealth Attorney’s seat in the upcoming election, incumbent Robert “Bob” Anderson of Purcellville and James “Jim” Plowman of South Riding. Anderson is running as an independent and Plowman as a Republican.
The Commonwealth Attorney serves a four-year term to handle the prosecution of criminal offenses in Loudoun County. Since Anderson took office in 1996, the office opened more than 12,000 felony files, most of them with three counts or more, and tried 35 murder trials with 33 receiving convictions, he said. Each year, the office also handles some of the 48,000 bench trials the lower courts process, those that involve possible jail sentences or the inclusion of a defense attorney.
"We gave high conviction rates," Anderson said, adding that he tried to get the right people in to do their jobs thoroughly and to address the county's population growth. During his term, the staff expanded from four assistant prosecutors to 13 and added two case manager and investigator positions.
THE PROSECUTION staff handles criminal cases from theft to murder from eight police agencies, including the Sheriff's Office, which brings nearly 57 percent of the felony cases the office prosecutes. The other agencies include the Leesburg police, 23 percent of the cases; state police, 8 percent of cases; the Metropolitan Washington Police Authority, 8 percent of cases; and the town police departments and the Department of Animal Care and Control, 4 percent of cases.
"We need a high degree of communication, cooperation and coordination with the police agencies," Anderson said. As far as getting along with Sheriff Stephen Simpson, "The issue there is responsiveness. If there is a hole in a case, a prosecutor needs to pick up the phone and ask for the information to be filled," he said, adding that some of Simpson's responses were not as such. "You have to be able to count on a responsive attitude when the request is made. It doesn't matter who gets along with who. You need to function within the system."
In some cases, the lack of responsiveness may be due to policy, which becomes the responsibility of agency heads to change, Anderson said. "We need communication, cooperation and coordination to pull these cases together. We need to be able to provide adequate ... trial preparation so we can maintain the high conviction rate we have now," he said. "That requires teamwork."
The prosecution staff carries pagers geared to different types of felony cases, since responding to the crime scene and gathering evidence is part of trial preparation, said Anderson, who carries a pager for the cases involving death from murder.
The staff also needs to be at the scene of gang activity, Anderson said. "We need to be more refined in the way we deal with gangs," he said, adding that conspiracy and mob statutes will be needed to attack and weaken the gang organizations. As far as being said to be soft on crime, he said, "The record shows differently."
PLOWMAN, 36, is running for the office to make the county a safer place to live and to offer a different approach to criminal prosecution than that of Anderson, he said. The native Virginian has spent the past seven years in the legal field, including more than three years in Fairfax County as a prosecutor under Bob Horan and the last one-and-a-half years in insurance defense as an attorney for All State Insurance. He graduated with a juris doctor law degree in 1996 from George Washington University.
“The office needs a different approach than it’s taking. It does not coordinate with law enforcement,” he said. “The prosecution office and law enforcement must work hand in hand to be effective and efficient. You can’t do that job unless that’s happening. I know that from experience.”
Plowman blamed “the political fighting” between Anderson and Simpson and the Board of Supervisors. “It’s a disservice to public safety efforts,” he said. "I want to make extra efforts to make sure relationships are fostered between the Commonwealth Attorney and police officers and to make sure assistant prosecutors are available. We need to be involved in what the police are doing. It's an exchange of information."
Plowman reflected on his trial experience, saying that during his 3.5 years as an assistant prosecutor, he tried 40 jury trials. “The [Commonwealth Attorney's] office is soft to be blunt about it," he said, adding that he believes that the office dismisses too many cases. "They are not trying the tough cases. They are not trying the cases that need to be tried in Loudoun County."
Plowman mentioned the onset of gang activity brought about by population growth in the county. "I've prosecuted gangs before," he said, adding that he coordinated with surrounding jurisdictions and the state police to address the gang problem in Fairfax County. "I've already established relationships with those agencies. It will be that much easier for me to coordinate and communicate with those agencies."
"There's absolutely no chance I'm going to be overwhelmed by docket size," Plowman continued. "Everything Loudoun will be seeing, I've already experienced."