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Group begins recall campaign against Fairfax County prosecutor

Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T.  Descano at a news conference on Oct. 15, 2020.
Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve T. Descano at a news conference on Oct. 15, 2020. (Tom Jackman/TWP)
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A group has launched a bid to recall Fairfax County’s top prosecutor, saying Steve T. Descano has failed crime victims, a year and a half after he won office with promises of liberal reforms on a range of issues from the death penalty to cash bail.

Officials with Stand Up Virginia said Descano has not been tough enough on offenders. Brenda Tillett, president of the group, noted Descano’s policy of not participating in some misdemeanor cases as an example.

She said such policies leave victims to navigate the legal system on their own and can lead to bad outcomes.

“We cannot abide the denigration of victims that’s occurring in the county,” Tillett said.

Descano said his office is not handling some lesser cases because it does not have the staffing to give the cases the attention they deserve. He said he is seeking more staffing to handle such cases.

Stand Up Virginia is also forming “task forces” in counties where other liberal prosecutors have recently been elected, as possible preludes to recall campaigns in those jurisdictions.

The group faces an uphill climb because Virginia’s recall statute sets a high bar. The group would have to collect signatures from 10 percent of voters who cast a ballot in the 2019 election, or roughly 29,000 voters. It would then have to persuade a judge that the commonwealth’s attorney had neglected his duty, misused his office or performed incompetently.

Descano dismissed the recall campaign in a statement, calling it a far-right, partisan effort to stand in the way of criminal justice reforms.

“When I took office I promised our community I would hold police accountable and reform our criminal justice system,” Descano said. “While this work is far from done, we have made considerable progress — and transformative change often elicits fringe backlash.”