Championing Victim's Rights

Championing Victim's Rights

"Justice isn't served until crime victims are."

The Loudoun County Victim/Witness Program has marked its silver anniversary by honoring Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Gigi Lawless as a champion of victim's rights.

In a ceremony Friday, case managers also presented certificates of appreciation to Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert Vernail and Loudoun County Sheriff's Office Investigator Steve Remick for helping victims and witnesses.

The program's goal is to ensure crime victims and witnesses receive fair and compassionate treatment during the judicial process.

Allison Howard, case manager who has served as acting director for the past six months, remembered former President Ronald Reagan, who created the program. She reminded the attendees that every statistic represents a person. And those people are why "we are wearing blue and silver ribbons today," she said.

Howard quoted this year's theme, "Justice isn't served until crime victims are."

IN PRESENTING the Victim's Services Award, Howard described Lawless as articulate and tough in court, a "real go-getter."

She said Vernail was reliable, a family man and a "no-nonsense kind of guy." In accepting the certificate, Vernail said he wished there were no victims, so he could pursue another line of work.

Howard thanked Remick for routinely going beyond the call of duty to serve crime victims and witnesses. "You're presence in court is appreciated," she said. A man of few words, Remick said, "Thank you," twice.

Case managers gave certificates to the Leesburg Police Department and the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in gratitude for their commitment to the cause. "It takes a collaborative effort," Howard said.

LAWLESS WAS ONE of the first people that Commonwealth's Attorney James Plowman hired after he was elected two years ago. She was a prosecutor in Nashville, Tenn., and moved to Northern Virginia because of her husband Jason's job. "Most of my caseload is child sex crimes," she said after the ceremony. The children's ages range from 4 to 17.

She said she couldn't do her job without the assistance of Investigators Shannon Coderre, Dave Canham and Kelly Poland. "Everyone relies on everyone else," she said. She also credited Sue Brown and Jane Soneberg, Loudoun Healthcare nurses who handle the examination after a sexual assault.

Lawless said most of the criminals involved in the child sex crimes end up entering into a plea agreement, which spares the victim the anguish involved in confronting the predator. "Right now, I have five to 10 sex crimes pending," she said.

LAWLESS SAID she always knew she would follow in the footsteps of her father, Richard Braun, who is a federal prosecutor. She chose a job in a public defender's office as her first work as an attorney. "I thought it would give me a better perspective," she said.

She said Howard, case manager Jeston Baldwin and the program's new director, Nicole Wittmann, have been her "life support system."

"They are my liaison to all of my victims," she said. "They are the first link. They do a lot of hand holding. They conduct courtroom tours so the children don't have to be scared. … They are the rock in the entire system."

Howard said they rely on the solid experience Lawless brings to the courts. "She's really compassionate with the people," Howard said. "She's not just doing her job. She cares about the people she serves."

The ceremony was held in conjunction with the national Crime Victims' Rights Weeks.