Update: April 1, 1 p.m.
Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) has signed her cooperative agreement, according to Chairwoman Phyllis Randall’s Chief of Staff on Thursday morning.
This story has been updated since it was published on March 24.
The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors will freeze four new judicial positions in the proposed fiscal 2022 budget until the Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj (D) signs a cooperative agreement between her office and County government, which provides county resources and protections for her employees.
The cooperative agreement is offered to constitutional officers including the treasurer, sheriff, clerk of the circuit court, commissioner of the revenue, and commonwealth's attorney at the start of each their terms.
Only Biberaj and Treasurer Roger Zurn (R) had not signed the letter as of a work session on Thursday, March 18; although Zurn has since signed the agreement, according to staff in Chairwoman Phyllis Randall’s (D-At Large) office.
Freezing positions in the special victims and conviction units comes in response to the number of complaints by former employees, nonprofit community members and case victims that have expressed to Randall concerns about Biberaj’s conduct.
“This is not about her prosecutorial philosophy,” Randall said to the Times-Mirror. “She was elected, she can prosecute who she wants to prosecute or not prosecute who she wants, she has every right to bring her philosophy into the job because she was duly and fairly elected.”
“She does not have the right to be to be verbally abusive to her employees and that's a problem for me,” she added. "No one deserves to just be disrespected day in and day out at their place of work.”
Each officer has authority over how to operate their respective budget, according to County Administrator Tim Hemstreet.
He said when the officers sign the cooperative agreement, county government extends several services such as human resources, finance and procurement to those offices.
The agreement also assures officers will operate in accordance with policies and procedures established by the board. The county has continued to provide services to the office despite the missing agreement, Hemstreet said.
Biberaj’s failure to sign the agreement was questioned during the budget process after several concerns surfaced regarding her treatment of case victims and employees.
Randall said the agreement is important for the protection of Biberaj’s staff.
In a statement to The Times-Mirror, Biberaj said it's common for transition period in the first year after a change in administration. Biberaj also said some moved on to other interests, retired, wanted a career change, found jobs that permitted them to telework regularly, or went back to school.
However, members of the board felt differently during their discussion with the Biberaj.
Randall, the chairwoman, summarized some of the responses as “unconscionable,” “not acceptable” and that the commonwealth’s attorney is not protecting victims.
Of the 39 positions in the Commonwealth attorney’s office, there have been 17 resignations or retirements between February 2020 and February 2021, according to budget materials.
As of March, six positions were filled and then subsequently left from January 2020 to March 2021 — five were attorneys and one was non-attorney support staff.
Of the 17 total resignations or retirements, which include 10 voluntary separations when Biberaj started in January 2020, seven were non-attorney support staff and 10 were attorney positions.
The current vacancy rate is 10 percent, or four positions (4.00 FTE). All existing vacancies are attorney positions.
Biberaj confirmed at Thursday’s budget work session that she has not signed the agreement since being elected in November 2019. She said the last time she reviewed the agreement was in September and plans to meet with the county administrator's office over the matter.
“I don’t have any objection to sitting down and resolving it,” Biberaj said. She said she asked the board for six months to study the agreement.
Randall in turn rebuked Biberaj for requesting more time to review the agreement, saying she had ample time to address any concerns with the document.
Biberaj also defended her office, saying that "we have diligently and valiantly served our community" and that she is focused on keeping the community safe, reducing harm and providing justice for victims and the accused.
"We are excited about the culture we are building for our office," Biberaj said.
The board also voted 8-0-1 — with Supervisor Caleb Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent — to grant only four of Biberaj‘s requested 12 top-priority positions included in Hemstreet’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget.
The assistant commonwealth’s attorney position is for the Conviction Integrity and Post-Conviction Unit. The three other positions are for the Special Victims’ Unit, including a director and two case managers.
The attorney’s office said in a questionnaire to the board members that the request to increase the staff is due to "the needs of the community and redirection of the office to innovative prosecution, consistent with the wishes of the community, require additional resources to achieve these goals."
Over the past decade, the attorney’s office increased by two staff members while the county’s population increased by approximately 30 percent (100,000 residents), the report stated.
Randall said she knows the victim support program was award winning and was successful prior to Biberaj beginning in January 2020.
"To come and ask for 12 positions in a department that’s never been staffed — I can't say you don't need any," Randall said. “I do think just population growth alone probably accounts for needing some — but 12 is a lot.”
Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R- Dulles) supported the motions, pointing out that Biberaj’s office experienced a 31 percent increase in staff level. He said no other county operation saw a higher increase.
“I don't think it would be fair to say the board has just flat denied and not listened and not tried to add resources because I think we have — just not at the level that was requested,” Letourneau said.
He said before committing to this size request that he would like to see some stability and resolution in the commonwealth’s attorney’s office.
The board’s final budget work session is Wednesday.
As of March 17, the board’s votes over the past few weeks have resulted in an increase of $357,343 in local tax funding above the county administrator’s proposed budget, which includes a tax rate of $1.005 per $100 of assessed property value.
The tax rate is currently at $1.010 with an unallocated balance of $3,984,814 until the next half-cent increase.