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Opinion Endorsements for commonwealth’s attorneys in Northern Virginia

Steve Descano (left), a Democrat, is running for commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County against incumbent Raymond F. Morrogh (right).
Steve Descano (left), a Democrat, is running for commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County against incumbent Raymond F. Morrogh (right). (Campaign of Steve Descano, left, and Campaign of Raymond F. Morrogh)
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ELECTIONS FOR commonwealth’s attorneys in Virginia have traditionally been low-key events. Indeed, as the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia determined, between 2005 and 2015, more than 70 percent of the state’s prosecutors ran uncontested. But this year, Northern Virginia features three high-profile contests for commonwealth’s attorneys in primary elections June 11. The races are being played out against the backdrop of a national reassessment of the approach to criminal justice that has spotlighted racial disparities and mass incarceration that resulted from tough-on-crime policies.

In Fairfax County and in Arlington and the city of Falls Church, challengers seek to unseat longtime incumbents. In Prince William County, the retirement of Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul B. Ebert after 52 years in office has set up a spirited campaign, with two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination.

Commonwealth’s attorneys wield enormous power, so voters should give these races close attention.

In Fairfax, we believe incumbent Raymond F. Morrogh should be reelected. Mr. Morrogh, commonwealth’s attorney since 2007, is being challenged by former federal prosecutor Steve Descano, who says the office needs transparency and progressive reforms. We have disagreed with Mr. Morrogh — his opposition to former Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s restoration of voting rights for felons and his use of the death penalty are two examples — but he is not retrograde or excessively punitive. He is a fair and skilled prosecutor who has been supportive of reforms such as a veterans court, mental-health court and drug court. Mr. Morrogh backed legislative efforts to raise the misdemeanor-felony threshold, and his office has been praised for being receptive to indigency and immigration consequences as factors warranting leniency. The diversion and community outreach programs need improvement and expansion, but we think the capable Mr. Morrogh, by experience and sensibility, is best suited for that task.

In Arlington and Falls Church, incumbent Theo Stamos faces Parisa Dehghani-Tafti , a former public defender who is legal director of an innocence-protection organization. The contours of the race are similar to those in Fairfax, with Ms. Stamos being criticized for backward-thinking policies, but here we think criticism of Ms. Stamos — her arbitrary restrictions on the discovery process, overcharging of offenses and seeming tone-deafness to implicit bias in law enforcement — is accurate. Ms. Dehghani-Tafti offers a better choice. Her work on innocence protection gives her unique insights into the criminal-justice system and where improvements need to be made. She is right to want to treat rather than criminalize mental-health problems and drug addiction, and to prioritize crimes such as wage theft and elder abuse over petty, nonviolent offenses. Her experience has been in protecting innocent people from being wrongly convicted, but she recognizes the need to go after and lock up those who pose a real danger.

In Prince William, Amy Ashworth gets our endorsement in the Democratic primary over Tracey Lenox. Now a partner in a Manassas law firm, Ms. Ashworth worked in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office for 11 years, handling special victims’ units cases, including child sexual and physical abuse and homicide. That experience gives her insight into how to tackle domestic violence and work with juvenile offenders so that they don’t reoffend. She is committed to diversifying the office and focusing on crimes that do the most harm rather than simply seeking to put the most people in prison.

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