Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) is the worst. I don’t mean that in the casual sense, where saying something is “the worst” just means that it’s bad. No, I really mean it. The worst.
In twenty-three years I have cast ballots for candidates in ninety-six political races. Winners of those races have included people I voted for and against. Some have served well and honorably. Many . . . haven’t. Over the years I have been represented by partisan hacks, incompetent fools, liars, and criminals. Even among this motley bunch, Biberaj really is the worst.
I did not expect her to be a good commonwealth’s attorney. She did not earn my endorsement because her campaign was “more focused on nonsensical social justice buzzwords than on the proper execution of the law,” and she did not “seem to understand what the office is.” But I did not expect her term in office to be the absolute disaster that it has been. I did not know it was even possible for an elected official to so consistently fail at her duties. “A stopped clock is right twice a day,” they say; in her case, that would be a significant improvement.
Biberaj’s abiding failure to do the job for which she has been elected would be bad enough if she were serving as, say, county treasurer. There, her failures would not be putting anybody’s life or property at risk. It might be excusable too if she was just one out of the one-hundred members of the Virginia House of Delegates, where her extraordinarily poor decision making skills would be outweighed by the better judgement of the majority of her colleagues. But no, she is the Commonwealth’s Attorney—the Virginia equivalent of a district attorney or public prosecutor.
Her failures are a threat to public safety. At least one person has already died as a consequence.
In light of all the missteps and errors catalogued below, and many others, I call upon Buta Biberaj to resign immediately.
I also support the effort by Virginians for Safe Communities Inc. to petition the circuit court to remove Biberaj from office under Code of Virginia § 24.2-233 for “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.” If the petition is successful, the circuit court should remove Biberaj from office. Loudoun County citizens should sign the recall petition here.
Let’s review a few of the prominent debacles of Biberaj’s tenure (so far), in roughly chronological order:
Sex Offender Paralegal
In March 2021, the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office hired a new paralegal who happened to be a registered sex offender. You might wonder how the background check did not catch that this individual had been in prison for five years on a child pornography conviction, but the explanation is simple: They never did a background check!
The paralegal was given access to all the office’s case files until he was fired several days later . . . after his probation officer called the office to make sure they knew who they were employing.
Biberaj refused to comment on the details, but she released a statement saying, “Applicants for employment are reviewed through established Loudoun County Human Resources processes. Thereafter, the applicants are referred to [the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office]. Candidates submit to a vetting process. All offers of employment are contingent on, and subject to, a background check, and a probationary period.”
That sounds nice, but it’s a deflection and a lie.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (D) was not happy about Biberaj’s statement: “The fact is, the county does not do that. She is an independent, elected official. . . . And it is up to her to do the hiring, the interview, and the background check, and she didn’t do it. Normally, I wouldn’t speak out like this, but our H.R. department are hardworking people and so for her to implicate them in that way was just unacceptable to me.”
Randall continued, “I would say to all the victims in the county, she should be apologizing to them. And I don’t have the right to apologize on her behalf, but I guess I should because if she doesn’t have the decency to apologize to them herself, I’m happy to do that for her.”
On May 28, 2021, a male student at Stone Bridge High School sexually assaulted a female student in the girl’s restroom. The attacker was eventually arrested and charged. Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) officials were aware of the assault, and numerous other disciplinary problems with this student, but he was simply moved to another school—Broad Run High School—where he sexually assaulted another female student on September 9, 2021.
The exhaustive and damning grand jury report about these events (PDF link) lays the blame primarily upon the schools, and two school officials have already been indicted as a result, but it also cites failures by other agencies, including Biberaj’s office:
While we strongly believe LCPS bears the brunt of the blame for the October 6 incident and the transfer of the student from [Stone Bridge High School] to [Broad Run High School], a breakdown of communication between and amongst multiple parties—including the Loudoun County Sheriffs Office, the Court Services Unit, and the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office—led to the tragic events that occurred.
Among other findings, the grand jury pointed out that, “Despite the court requirement that the assailant not return to [Stone Bridge High School], the commonwealth’s attorney’s office did not reach out to LCPS about this requirement to ensure it had been followed,” and that it was “struck by the lack of communication among LCPS, LCSO, the court services unit[,] and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.”
First Amendment Violations
On June 22, 2021, about 700 angry citizens went to a Loudoun County School Board meeting. They, of course, had every right to. It’s a public board. The first of the above mentioned school sexual assaults had already become public knowledge, the board was considering a controversial “transgender” policy, the schools were flailing around with misguided COVID-19 pandemic policies, and parents had started to become aware of some of the racist nonsense being taught to their kids. There was a lot going on, and a lot of people had opinions about it.
The board had planned to allow about 250 members of the public to speak, but after about 50 of them had done so the board abruptly declared that the public comment period was over and they would go into recess. One man encouraged the public to stay and continue to share their comments even if the board wasn’t there to listen. Superintendent Scott Ziegler declared that the gathering had become an “unlawful assembly,” and when some refused to leave, Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office deputies began making arrests. (An interesting aside: Ziegler was later indicted for lying to the board during this same meeting . . . he claimed he did not know about any assaults in school bathrooms.)
Biberaj’s office pursued trespassing and other charges against two men. One, Jon Tigges, is the man who had encouraged others to stay and speak. Another, Scott Smith, was the father of the victim of the bathroom assault who was arrested after he advanced toward counter-protesters who were trying to provoke a physical altercation (none of the actual provocateurs were charged . . . of course). Tigges was found guilty, but the charges were dismissed on appeal. Smith was found guilty and is appealing the conviction.
Tigges and Smith were members of the public who were attending a public meeting on public property. They were not interfering with that meeting, since it had gone into recess anyway. The sheriff’s deputies involved should not have arrested them, and should have been disciplined for doing so. But for Biberaj’s office to go through with prosecution is just beyond the pale, and especially ironic since her office later decided it wouldn’t even bother to prosecute real trespassing cases anymore (details later in this article).
Removals from Cases
Biberaj’s immediate predecessor was Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman (R), who did not run for reelection in 2019 because he had been appointed a Loudoun County Circuit Court judge. Plowman was himself a controversial figure; when I endorsed his challenger in 2015, I criticized him for exorbitant spending, showing “very poor judgement in a number of key cases,” and a pattern of “favoritism in what he investigates and what he doesn’t.”
Biberaj and Plowman seem to have developed a feud . . . perhaps because they are so much alike.
In June of 2021, Biberaj’s office attempted to force through a plea deal with accused burglar Kevin Valle by hiding information about charges against him in other jurisdictions. Plowman, upon learning this, removed the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office from the case, citing its failure to “properly prosecute this case with the detail and attention required of a criminal prosecutor and consistent with professional standards and obligations of a prosecutor.”
The Virginia Supreme Court later reversed Plowman’s decision, but only because Plowman did not give her sufficient notice or opportunity to explain. It did not excuse or condone Biberaj’s behavior, which was also subject to a ethics complaint before the Virginia State Bar. Plowman also removed Biberaj’s office from handling the appeal in the Scott Smith case (see above section “First Amendment Violations”) due to concerns about prosecutorial impartiality.
It would be tempting to give Biberaj and her office a pass, or at least afford the benefit of the doubt, since Plowman is a frustrating character with his own history of poor performance in public office. But other local judges have removed the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office from cases for broadly similar reasons, which suggests that the fault does indeed lie with Biberaj.
In December 2021, a different judge (unnamed in media reports) removed her office from a case due to prosecutorial misconduct, and Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby disqualified her office from handling several electoral recall cases over concerns about impartiality.
The Lollobrigido Murder
On July 21, 2021, Peter Lollobrigido attacked his estranged wife Regina. He was charged with two counts of abduction, two counts of domestic assault and battery, and strangulation. The court services office recommended that Lollobrigido be held without bond, but the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office inexplicably agreed to allow his release.
The terms were a $5,000 unsecured bond and that Lollobigidio would have to wear a GPS ankle monitor, but there were no restrictions on where he could go and the monitor was not configured to “alert” in any conditions. Regina took out a restraining order, but no steps were taken by Biberaj’s office or by the court to program the monitor to alert authorities if Lollobigidio approached Regina’s home or work addresses.
On September 19, 2021, Lollobrigido attacked Regina again. He bludgeoned her with a hammer until she was unrecognizable. She died a week later.
According to one local media report, a former Loudoun prosecutor said that “they were ‘pushed to bond people out in domestic violence cases,’ and that ‘[Biberaj] pushes to let people out generally.'”
Biberaj has repeatedly refused to discuss the details of the case or explain why her office accepted such lax terms of release for such a violent criminal, but in her 2021 State of Justice [sic] address, also quoted in the above report, she seemed awfully proud about letting criminals go: “We collectively have been able to successfully reduce the daily jail population from a number of 425 to about 250 on regular basis. . . .”
The Stone Colburn Incident
In July 2021, Stone Colburn murdered Natalie Crow, who was his brother’s girlfriend. Colburn faced charges of murder and stabbing in the commission of a felony. The case inched slowly through the legal system, in part because of questions about Colburn’s mental competency. At a hearing on October 6, 2022, the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office tried to get funding for a second mental health evaluation because they suspected Colburn was feigning insanity. When the request was denied, prosecutors attempted a bizarre legal maneuver that had dangerous consequences.
The plan, apparently, was that they would move to dismiss Colburn’s murder and stabbing charges, then re-charge him with the lesser charge of concealing a dead body. That would result in the case being moved from the Loudoun County General District Court to the Loudoun County Circuit Court, where they hoped a different judge would approve the mental health evaluation.
The problem is one of timing. The Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the local jails, cannot keep somebody in custody if they aren’t charged with anything. So when the murder and stabbing charges were dropped, they could only keep Colburn in custody if the new charge—concealing a dead body—was already filed and a court had ordered that he be held. According to Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R), there was no such order . . . so Colburn went free.
By the time a new arrest warrant was issued, Colburn had already left the state. He was subject to a nationwide manhunt, and, thankfully, was captured without incident the next day in Georgia. He was later returned to Loudoun, where the murder charges were reinstated.
Biberaj’s cute little court-switch maneuver was all but guaranteed to introduce confusion . . . not to mention that it was an unethical cheat designed to get around a ruling they didn’t like. It is possible that the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office should share some of the blame; if they really did have the new charges in-hand (as Biberaj claims, but Chapman denies) then they should not have released Colburn. But that would be only a partial absolution. You don’t play stupid legal games with murder cases in the first place.
After review of the incident, Loudoun County Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) became convinced that Biberaj was in the wrong. “I truly wish I could trust [Biberaj’s] version of the facts [but] that version appears to be incomplete, misleading, or false, either because [she] didn’t know what had happened when she wrote her press release and didn’t know the difference between a transport order and a detention order or because she intended to mislead the public.”
Abdication of Responsibility
On December 30, 2022, Biberaj sent a memorandum to the judges of the Loudoun County General District Court stating that, beginning January 16, 2023, her office would no longer participate in certain misdemeanor prosecutions. She claims that those cases will still go to trial and, “The judge still makes the determination whether they’re guilty or not guilty and imposes an appropriate disposition.” In effect, this means that law enforcement officers will be expected to act as both prosecutors and witnesses.
Apparently these “small potato” crimes are just too darn much work for the Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office . . . despite the fact that it’s one of the best funded in the state and this sort of thing has never been a problem before. Among the crimes that Biberaj can’t be bothered with are reckless driving, property damage hit-and-run, eluding police, trespassing, petty larceny, drug possession, underage possession of alcohol, and failure to appear in court.
This is an outrageous abdication of responsibility. It is not being done out of necessity. It is not even being done out of incompetence. It is malicious.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that she did not inform Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman (R) that his deputies would now be expected to serve as prosecutors, nor did she inform any other local officials. Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall (D) found out about it when she started getting media inquiries. She questioned why cutbacks were necessary; after all, the board recently gave Biberaj funding for sixty-one new employees.
I reviewed the county budget, and, sure enough, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office got a whopping 40% increase in funding from local revenue for the 2022 fiscal year (from about $4.3 million to $6.0 million), and then another 16% increase for 2023 (from about $6.0 million to $7.0 million). These increases far outpace population growth and changes in crime rates.
When questioned about this, Biberaj’s dismissive response was, “There’s no obligation or duty to share with the Board of Supervisors.”
Biberaj has attempted to frame this as a simple reallocation of resources: “Our community wants us to focus on crimes of violence; our community wants us to focus on serious offenses.” But many of these crimes are serious offenses, and Biberaj’s office has been given plenty of resources—probably more than she really needs. She’s lying. Again.
In the aftermath of this new mess, local attorney Elizabeth Lancaster (D) announced that she will be challenging Biberaj in the Democratic Party primary election. “The last three years of Ms. Biberaj’s term, it’s almost indescribable. . . . What we are seeing is victims’ rights are not being met. Defendants’ rights are not being met. It is really in a shambles. . . . We have seen just travesty after travesty quite honestly and we just can’t stand for it anymore.”
The “H.R. Nightmare”
As described above, Elizabeth Lancaster (D) is challenging Biberaj in the Democratic Party primary election. When she announced her campaign, Lancaster called Biberaj an “H.R. nightmare” and said that there has been “a tremendous amount of turnover in her office.”
It’s true, according to a “blistering new analysis” by the Loudoun County Department of Human Resources. Among other things, the report revealed that the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office had a voluntary turnover rate of 56.70% in the 2021 fiscal year and 27.98% in the 2022 fiscal year. This compares to rates across the Loudoun County government of only 7.68% in 2021 and 10.90% in 2022.
In other words, Biberaj’s office had a turnover rate more than seven times higher than the county government in 2021. She lost roughly half of her employees in one year. While things improved in 2022, her turnover rate was still two and a half times higher than the county’s and she lost about a quarter of her employees. I knew things were bad; I had no idea they were this bad.
Predictably, Biberaj’s response to this report has been to lie and deflect.
First, she implies that this is a political hit-job. “It appears like it’s a continuing effort from the County Administrator, and I don’t know at whose behest, if it was supervisors or somebody else’s, to do such a report.” Perhaps Biberaj is unaware that her own political party holds a solid 6-3 majority on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. And if the county H.R. department took it upon themselves to make this report, maybe it is because they are tired of Biberaj blaming them for her failures (see the “Sex Offender Paralegal” section).
Second, Biberaj tries to link her office’s high turnover to the change in administration. “One of the things that’s lost in this statistic is the fact that with any new administration, there’s always a change. We look at presidents, we look at the county administrator’s office, when we have a new board, those changes come to place.” But the most disastrous year for turnover was her second year in office, and extremely high turnover continued for at least another year after that.
Third, she claims that turnover under her administration was somehow related to understaffing and low salaries during her predecessor’s administration. Even if it was true that employees were underpaid and overworked under Plowman, why would that cause turnover in the second and third years of the Biberaj administration? Don’t forget that her office got a 40% increase in county funding and sixty-one new employees for the 2022 fiscal year, but it still had a 27.98% turnover rate!
How dumb does she think her constituents are?
Inappropriate VFOIA Requests
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a U.S. federal law that gives citizens, journalists, and corporations a mechanism for obtaining public records and documents. Many U.S. states have adopted their own state-level FOIA equivalents; Virginia’s is called the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (VFOIA) and can be found in the Code of Virginia §2.2, Chapter 37.
Any Virginia citizen, and any journalist representing a media outlet that distributes or broadcasts in Virginia, has the right to make VFOIA requests. The state or local agency receiving the request must respond by either providing the requested records, explaining why the records cannot be released if they fall under the law’s exceptions, or certifying that no such records exist. This system is meant for private citizens and media outlets; government officials and offices cannot make VFOIA requests of other officials and offices—and certainly not for personal or political reasons.
But that didn’t stop Biberaj.
She submitted at least four VFOIA requests to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors from her official email address under her official title. These included requests for records of board members’ communications with Biberaj’s 2019 general election opponent Nicole Wittman (R), her 2023 Democratic Primary opponent Elizabeth Lancaster (D), and at least two local media reporters who have written articles about controversies involving Biberaj.
As a private citizen or candidate, using private email accounts, Biberaj can file VFOIA requests to her heart’s content—even transparently political ones like these. But she cannot use her office as commonwealth’s attorney, or government email systems, to do it. First off, the law doesn’t provide for intragovernmental VFOIA requests even in cases where such a thing might be warranted. Second, even if it did, using official email accounts and titles for personal or political purposes is an abuse of power.
Loudoun Supervisor Kristen Umstattd (D-Leesburg) is requesting that Biberaj “reimburse, from non-governmental funds, the County and Commonwealth for any County or State resources, including staff time, that you used in preparing and transmitting those personal/political requests from your government office.”
Biberaj has not made any public comment on Umstattd’s letter, but did comment to Loudoun Now about the VFOIA requests. She claims that they were not political or retaliatory. “When we’re asking for those conversations, it really is trying to figure out, what is the information that is not being shared by these county officials that the community should know about? Why, for three years, has it been a point for them to undermine the great work we’ve done in this office?”
More lying. More deflection.
Ed. Note: If new debacles arise, or if corrections need to be made about the old ones, this post will be updated and a note will be added to explain the changes.
Ed. Note, January 19, 2023: In the “Removals from Cases” section, I have added an additional media reference and clarified the timing of the Kevin Valle case. I have also moved that section above the “The Lollobrigido Murder” section to better reflect the chronological order of debacles.
Ed. Note, February 7, 2023: A new section, “The ‘H.R. Nightmare,'” has been added following new media reports about yet another Biberaj debacle.
Ed. Note, February 13, 2023: A new section, “Inappropriate VFOIA Requests,” has been added. This new controversy was reported in local media less than one week after the last.
Ed. Note, February 14, 2023: In the “Inappropriate VFOIA Requests” section, I have added a new paragraph commenting on Biberaj’s response to this new controversy.