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Former public defender challenges Loudoun prosecutor in 2023 election

Elizabeth Lancaster announces her candidacy in the Loudoun County commonwealth’s attorney Democratic primary race. (The Washington Post)

Elizabeth Lancaster — who spent 15 years as a public defender in Loudoun County and two more years as a private attorney for crime victims — announced at a news conference Tuesday that she plans to run for the Loudoun County commonwealth’s attorney job.

Lancaster, a Democrat, launched her campaign in the primary race against incumbent Buta Biberaj (D). Biberaj was elected in 2019 as part of a wave of liberal prosecutors in Northern Virginia, some of whom have since faced criticism and recall efforts.

Lancaster said she was “running for commonwealth’s attorney to right the ship,” though she noted that she was not challenging Biberaj because of her ideology. Both she and Biberaj support criminal justice reform.

“Criminal justice reform is not a dirty word,” Lancaster said.

Lancaster said there was high turnover in Biberaj’s office, affecting the county’s ability to successfully prosecute cases. Lancaster also denounced Biberaj’s decision to “defer to the court and law enforcement” — or step back prosecutors’ involvement — on some misdemeanor and traffic cases. Biberaj has defended the move, saying it is meant to conserve resources for more violent offenses.

“What is happening right now in Loudoun County is not justice reform,” Lancaster said.

Biberaj did not respond to multiple requests for comment about Lancaster’s campaign.

Fairfax County top prosecutor Steve Descano to seek reelection in 2023

Lancaster said she currently represents survivors of domestic violence, and she represented sexual assault victims at two Loudoun high schools. If she was elected, Lancaster said, domestic violence cases would be a high priority for her office.

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano (D), who was also among the liberal prosecutors elected in 2019, announced his reelection campaign this month, and he will face a challenge from lawyer Ed Nuttall, who has represented officers involved in police shootings. Nuttall told The Washington Post he planned to launch his campaign in the coming weeks.

In Arlington, Josh Katcher (D) is campaigning against Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, his former supervisor. Katcher worked in Dehghani-Tafti’s office until August, according to his campaign website.

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