Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Six months into her freshman year as Commonwealth’s Attorney, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti is making waves.

Though she has hurled herself into her promised criminal justice reform while cementing partnerships with courthouse stakeholders, she has also attracted national attention and conservative brickbats.

On March 4, four Arlington Circuit Court judges took the unusual step of challenging her plans for more collaborative “restorative justice” by saddling her office with new paperwork requirements when filing motions to amend or dismiss charges.

And she drew fire from her handling of the March 29 shooting at the Arlington Smoke Shop in Green Valley.

After three juveniles broke in, an employee asleep in the back rushed out with a gun and wounded one teen, police said.

The employee was charged with malicious wounding, reckless handling of a firearm and violation of a protective order, then held without bond.

The store owner went on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show claiming self-defense rights, complaining that Dehghani-Tafti would not permit him to post bail. Arlington GOP Chairman Andrew Loposser tweeted that “the Commonwealth’s Attorney should drop the charges immediately and go after the real perpetrators.”

Dehghani-Tafti asked for patience while her office processed non-public information. She told me she “presented that additional information to the Circuit Court, which made the final determination on bond status.” Three weeks later, two alleged burglars were served warrants.

Does she pay attention to the political hits? “A certain former mayor of New York called me an `anarchist puppet of a Jewish Nazi,’ she said. “When people go that far, they tend to lose credibility with me.”

At a May 13 virtual talk to the Committee of 100, Dehghani-Tafti outlined the need for building “trust” with police (a difficult work in progress). It’s not easy to move from “retributive justice” (focusing on punishment), to “restorative justice” (focusing on the relationship between offender and victim).

Policywise, that translates to stopping requests for cash bail for accused who are not flight risks. “Cash bail doesn’t keep the community safe,” she said. Her team monitors jail population levels to preserve resources. There’s more negotiating in youth drug and mental health cases.

She’s hoping to boost participation in jury duty by halting peremptory strikes of juror candidates. Training will now include having prosecutors visit prisons, and her office is practicing “vertical prosecution,” meaning one attorney stays on each case for the duration, to enforce “accountability.”

Her office is tackling the “Achilles Heel” of outdated technology, allowing electronic sharing of discovery evidence and no longer requiring defense attorneys to come in person for research. Her transparency efforts include two new Twitter accounts.

Dehghani-Tafti personally lobbied in Richmond this year, helping with the new decriminalization of marijuana.

As the first outsider in memory to take over the CA’s office, Dehghani-Tafti encountered some bumps during the handoff. Three of four deputies left. She promoted longtime senior attorney Cari Steele, and distributed a staff questionnaire on what needs work.

But predecessor Theo Stamos declined her invitation to meet and compare notes. Stamos told me she received an email from Dehghani-Tafti and replied saying she was turning the transition over to two deputies. “I never heard from her again.”

Some takes on how the pandemic hit Arlington real estate.

“Homes are fewer days on the market as both buyers and sellers are serious — their current personal situations require it,“ said agent Alyssa Cannon of McEnearney Associates. “With tightening lender requirements and higher credit scores, homes priced right are selling briskly.”

“Covid-19 turned the mortgage industry upside down because of issues like payment forbearance, appraisers avoiding contact with homeowners and realtors, and shutdowns of manufacturers in construction,” said Johnathan Thomas, senior loan officer at Citizens One Mortgage. “But it’s been a pleasant surprise to still see many buyers. Citizens One didn’t pull out of the jumbo loan or construction lending market. We just experienced our most productive month.”

Alexis Schembri of Total Title says her biggest challenge is “conducting face-to-face closings while social distancing. I enjoy meeting customers in person and helping them through what always ends up one of the happiest times in their lives.”