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James Plowman won the Nov. 4 election to become the new Loudoun County commonwealth’s attorney by a decent margin, almost 13 percent. But except for a series of unexpected events, his name wouldn’t even have been on the ballot for the top prosecutor job in the burgeoning D.C. suburb. His opponent was the incumbent Robert Anderson, who had held the post for eight years after winning two elections as a Republican. This year, though, the Republicans tapped Sterling, Va., attorney Jonathan Moseley. Snubbed by the party, Anderson decided in March 2003, to run as an independent. By that time, the claim, since dropped, that Moseley did not live in Loudoun County had already caused a public relations flap. And in May, he dropped out of the race � leaving the Republicans with no candidate just seven months before the election. “I decided I could either put up a fight or get behind a candidate who could win,” Moseley says. He quickly became a Plowman supporter. Plowman, the treasurer of the local party, had been on the its commonwealth’s attorney search committee. Urged on by fellow party members, Plowman stepped into the gap. “The opportunity was there,” Plowman says. “And the rest is history.” Plowman, who takes over the office Jan. 1, has only three years of prosecutorial experience. But his supporters say the South Riding, Va., resident brings a tough law and order sensibility that will benefit the growing county. Loudoun County is far from the sleepy patch of horse country it used to be. The county’s population has doubled over the last 10 years and is expected to double again in the next decade. And Loudoun is now home to the kind of crime that once was the exclusive province of cities. Putting the lid on gang-related crime is Plowman’s mandate as he starts his new job. Like its sibling Northern Virginia counties, Loudoun County is home to mushrooming gangs and the crimes and violence that accompany them. According to Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Owen Bashem, the 12-lawyer prosecutor’s office will have handled 1,600 felonies during calendar year 2003. A handful of murders committed during the last 15 months are yet unsolved and may well wend their way to court during Plowman’s four-year term. In addition to the county sheriff’s office, the Leesburg, Middleburg, and Purcellville police departments funnel cases for prosecution to the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, as do the Virginia State Police and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police Department. (Dulles Airport falls within Loudoun County’s borders.) Plowman, 36, is currently an insurance defense litigator for the Allstate Insurance Co. From 1998 through 2001, he worked as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Fairfax County. Prior to his stint as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, Plowman had a solo general law practice in Fairfax. And while attending law school at George Washington University at night, he worked in the general counsel’s office of the Alexandria-based Sheet Metal Workers’ National Pension Fund. OPEN LINES OF COMMUNICATION Plowman’s winning election platform was a call for more trials and fewer plea bargains for criminals. He also promised a better relationship with County Sheriff Robert Simpson. Simpson, who won reelection on the Republican ticket on Nov. 4, had a notoriously fractious relationship with Anderson. They simply didn’t get along. By all accounts, their underlings had no such rancor in their own dealings with each other. But Plowman’s arrival augurs more communication between the two offices. “We kind of hit it off from day one,” says Simpson, who campaigned with Plowman for six months. “Our people here appreciate that he has made himself available and has met with different groups to introduce himself and listen to their concerns about how they can better build their relationship with the commonwealth’s attorney office,” Simpson says. Plowman acknowledges that his experience as a prosecutor was brief, but says, “I love prosecution. I can’t think of a better job to have.” And his new office has a staff of experienced prosecutors who “can help Plowman make the transition,” says John Keats, a defense attorney who has practiced in Loudoun and Fairfax County for decades. Plowman also points out that Fairfax assistant commonwealth’s attorneys handle unusually heavy case loads. In his three years there, he says, he handled about 40 jury trails and 1,000 bench trials of all varieties ranging from traffic to gang-related felonies. Then, as now, Robert Horan Jr. was Fairfax County commonwealth’s attorney. A former Marine, Horan is considered one of the toughest prosecutors in Virginia. His office is notoriously hard-nosed. And Plowman considers Horan’s style a model for Loudoun County. CALLING MORE CASES Plowman says he will start his tenure by bringing more cases to trial. “There’s a time and a place to make deals, such as when your evidence is faulty or witnesses are uncooperative,” he says. “It looks like [Loudoun County prosecutors] are overcharging people and cutting deals in Circuit Court. They don’t seem to be screening their cases very well.” “They don’t try enough cases,” he says. “But they will.” Defense lawyers are wary of this plan. “I’m concerned about him coming in and making it a mini-Fairfax,” says one defense lawyer who practices in both jurisdictions. “Fairfax is like a mill.” By comparison, he adds, “Loudoun is humane, less politically motivated.” It could be that Plowman’s goal of trying more cases will run into the brick wall of limited resources once he takes over. The prosecutors in his office will have handled more than 100 felony cases each by year’s end. And the increasing population is only one dimension of Loudoun’s changing demographics. Many of the county’s new residents don’t speak English. “It takes twice as long to try a case using an interpreter,” Bashem notes. He adds that language skills have been key to hiring decisions in recent years and the staff now includes prosecutors who speak Spanish, Portuguese, and German. Plowman concedes that when his predecessor, Anderson, stumped for office in 1995, he, too, cited the number of plea bargains and dropped cases as a problem. But, he says, the numbers still need to change. “You have an ethical responsibility not to indict people in cases you can’t prove. You make your decisions based on evidence you have, and you go from there,” he says. Last week, Plowman attended a meeting of the Loudoun County criminal defense bar to learn about and perhaps assuage their concerns. Defense lawyer Keats knows Plowman from Plowman’s days as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney. Although Plowman is relatively green, “he has a good working knowledge of the law, and he’s a very approachable guy,” says Keats. “He’s reasonable.” Plowman will continue at Allstate until the end of the year. In his spare time, he will continue to meet with community groups, county department heads, and police chiefs and hopefully squeeze in some hunting and a brief vacation, he says. “The most important thing I want to do between now and then,” says Plowman, “is absorb as much information as I can.”

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