Attorney Elizabeth Lancaster, who represented Scott Smith, the father thrust into the public eye after his daughter was a victim in a school sexual assault scandal, will challenge Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj in a Democratic primary this year.
Lancaster, a former public defender and attorney at WhitbeckBennett, announced the primary challenge outside the county courthouse on Tuesday, backed by Smith, his wife Jessica, former Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan, and county supervisors Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) and Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn).
Lancaster said high turnover, empty positions and chaos in the chief prosecutor’s office led to incidents like the murder of Regina Redman, whose husband allegedly killed her with a hammer while out on bond for domestic abuse charges; Smith’s daughter’s assailant not being placed on the sex offender registry after a judge found the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office had not provided proper notice; a murder case upended after no witnesses were subpoenaed; and “multiple victims of domestic violence” calling the Board of Supervisors in tears about how they had been treated.
“One of the most important things I dealt with when I went out into private practice is I got to see the other side of domestic violence,” she said. “I got to represent victims. I got to be a victim advocate. I got to hold the hands of women as they sought protective orders against their abusers.”
She said domestic violence and drunk and reckless driving are her top safety issues.
“Many people believe the narrative is that these cases are not being prosecuted—these charges are being dismissed—because of some notion of criminal justice reform,” she said. “Let me challenge that. ‘Criminal justice reform’ is not a dirty word. These people are not being released from jail because of some mission, or vision, or values. These cases are being dismissed because of mistakes and incompetence in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office.”
“There can be no mission, there can be no mission or values, if you cannot maintain a team,” she added.
Lancaster represented Smith when he was charged with disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after a June 2021 School Board meeting that exploded into chaos. After photos and video of Smith bloodied and arrested at meeting appeared in the news nationwide, and he was drawn into public debates around the school district and the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office—and some Republican politicians sought to draw him into their campaigns.
But Smith said he and his wife grew close to Lancaster as she stuck by them even as other attorneys took over the case, and as both got criticism for their association and friendship.
“Elizabeth was taking some serious heat from some of her friends and family and colleagues about representing us and some of the things we stood for, and we were getting some of the same flak from some of our people saying, why do you have her, a Democrat?” Smith said. “Well, what I found out was Elizabeth practices law and treats people as human beings, and not if you have an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ on your chest.”
He said Lancaster helped his family navigate their challenges and appeal to “the common people” while staying as politically neutral as possible.
“Elizabeth stood behind us through thick and thin, and it had nothing to do with politics,” Smith said. “I don’t even think if Superman showed up with an ‘R’ on their cape I would vote for them. This isn’t about politics to us. This is about getting the right person into the office.”
Biberaj was removed from prosecuting Smith’s case in September 2022.
Meanwhile, Morgan served as chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney under former Commonwealth’s Attorney and now Circuit Court Judge James Plowman. In 2019, Morgan was one of two attorneys the Loudoun Bar Association recommended for a Circuit Court judgeship, although the General Assembly that year sidelined the usual review process and appointed then-Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney James P. Fisher.
“I bring in my colleague Sean Morgan, who has 17 years of institutional knowledge in how to run that office, because I know I’m going to need that help,” Lancaster said. “It is not enough to have vision and values. You have to know how to build that team, and Mr. Morgan and I are going to build that team to make sure that what we have seen over the last three years does not happen again.”
Umstattd said Lancaster brings an understanding of the impacts of violent crimes on victims, and dedication victims of domestic violence.
“When I look at Ms. Biberaj and her successful efforts to let violent offenders out of jail, with resulting murders and sexual assaults, I think we need someone who actually cares about victims. And I think Elizabeth does in a way that the incumbent clearly does not,” she said.
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