Almost two decades after leaving Fairfax County for the federal government, Jonathan Fahey hopes to return to the county’s Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney, this time as the top prosecutor.
Fahey formally launched his bid to become Fairfax County’s next commonwealth’s attorney on Aug. 13 in front of the Historic Fairfax County Courthouse in the City of Fairfax, positioning his campaign as a continuation of the legacy left by the office’s previous occupant, Ray Morrogh.
A veteran prosecutor who worked for Fairfax County for 35 years, Morrogh was first elected to serve as the county’s commonwealth’s attorney in 2007. He had not faced a challenger until Steve Descano, a former federal prosecutor like Fahey, declared his candidacy last November.
Fahey argued on Tuesday that Fairfax County has no need for the progressive criminal justice reform policies that Descano championed on his way to defeating Morrogh in the Democratic primary on June 11.
“We have a first-rate commonwealth’s attorney’s office, one that has kept our community safe while always adhering to the highest ethical and professional standards,” Fahey said. “…That’s why I’m running, because this is about public safety, not about politics.”
Fahey began his legal career in 1999 as a judicial law clerk for the Arlington County Circuit Court before joining Fairfax County’s Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney the following year, according to his LinkedIn profile.
After working for Fairfax County from 2000 to 2002, Fahey became an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where he prosecuted homicide, drug, and gun cases until he retired last month in order to run for commonwealth’s attorney.
Fahey, who grew up in Fairfax County and currently resides in Falls Church with his wife and their three children, says that, if elected, his top priorities would be to tackle gang violence and the opioid epidemic.
Opioids led to 83 deaths in Fairfax County in 2018, including 70 deaths that involved heroin or fentanyl, and the drugs are now the top cause of unnatural death in the county, according to the Fairfax County Health Department.
“I think those are the two biggest public safety issues that need to be addressed in a responsible way that looks out for both victims involved and also is fair to defendants,” Fahey said.
Certified by the Fairfax County Office of Elections as an independent candidate, Fahey officially announced his campaign while surrounded by supportive members of the local legal community, including some of Morrogh’s assistant prosecutors, defense attorneys, courthouse personnel, and Prince William County Commonwealth’s Attorney Paul Ebert.
Criminal defense attorney Edward Nuttall collaborated with Fahey when they both worked as Fairfax County prosecutors, and he says his high opinion of his former colleague has not changed, even though they are now likely to find themselves on opposite sides of a case.
“He’s going to continue the tradition of fairness, continue the tradition of protecting victims’ rights, and continue the tradition of enforcing the law fairly and impartially,” Nuttall said. “And that's what we want for our clients.”
Fahey’s promises to take a moderate approach as a prosecutor by prioritizing victims’ rights and maintaining a close relationship with local law enforcement stands in sharp contrast with the sweeping reforms proposed by Descano, who is advocating for eliminating cash bail and has pledged to not seek the death penalty or prosecute marijuana possession cases.
Fahey says that he is in favor of the death penalty and expressed skepticism at the idea of ending the practice of cash bail, though he stated that people should not be kept in jail just because they cannot afford to pay a bond.
He decried his opponent’s plan to direct prosecutors to dismiss marijuana possession charges as policy advocacy that should be left to the governor or General Assembly.
“When somebody takes an oath to be the commonwealth's attorney, they are taking an oath to enforce the law,” Fahey said. “He is essentially saying he is going to violate that oath on day one, which has not been the role of commonwealth's attorneys. If he disagrees with the law, there are other channels to advocate for that.”
Descano would not be the first Virginia commonwealth’s attorney to exercise prosecutorial discretion to stop pursuing marijuana possession charges.
Norfolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Gregory Underwood stated on Jan. 3 that his office would cease prosecuting all misdemeanor marijuana possession cases, though a Virginia Supreme Court panel ruled in May that judges do not have to abide by a prosecutor’s request for dismissal of charges.
Fahey says he plans to continue smaller-scale reforms implemented by Morrogh’s office, such as a drug court docket that launched in September as part of a countywide Diversion First initiative that directs nonviolent offenders with mental health or substance use issues to treatment instead of jail.
In addition to establishing himself as a moderate candidate, Fahey signaled on Tuesday that his campaign for commonwealth’s attorney will paint Descano’s Democratic primary win as a financial victory, rather than an indicator of public support for his policy proposals.
According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Descano’s campaign has received $646,798 in contributions since it launched last year, including a $459,212 donation from the Justice and Public Safety political action committee that Federal Election Commission records show is primarily funded by Democratic billionaire George Soros.
Morrogh’s campaign raised $254,324 across 2018 and 2019 with no individual donations larger than $10,000.
“It's not as if this progressive movement is organic in this community or many of these other communities,” Fahey said. “I think the real issue here is these outside interest groups putting money into these primaries, so essentially, buying an election.”
Descano’s campaign issued a swift rebuttal to his opponent’s effort to cast him as an outsider to Fairfax County.
“Steve has received a breadth of support in Fairfax County and has developed meaningful community relationships through active service across the county,” Hannah Menchoff—Descano’s campaign communications director and former Fairfax County Times employee—said, pointing to his past work on the Fairfax County Police Civilian Review Panel, the Fairfax County NAACP criminal justice committee, and the board of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia as evidence.
Descano’s endorsements include former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Del. Marcus Simon, Ibraheem Samirah, Karrie Delaney, and Mark Levine as well as Herndon Town Councilmember Cesar Del Aguila.
A statement from Descano’s campaign seeks to align Fahey with Republicans and President Donald Trump by highlighting his seven-month stint as general counsel for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy in 2018.
“Jonathan Fahey has the support and financial backing of the local Republican party and fringe conservatives from both within, and well beyond, Fairfax County,” Descano’s campaign said.
As of June 30, the Friends of Jonathan Fahey committee had reported only a single campaign contribution of $100 to the Virginia Department of Elections. The donor is not identified in the filed report.
While the Fairfax County Republican Committee has not issued an endorsement in the race for commonwealth’s attorney, the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition, which organizes for Republican candidates and causes, lists Fahey among its supported local candidates.
Petition pages provided to the Fairfax County Times by Descano’s campaign show that local Republican leaders, including Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and FCRC Chairman Tim Hannigan, circulated the documents on June 11 seeking signatures in support of Fahey’s candidacy.
“Fairfax County did something historic on June 11,” Descano said, referencing the first primary for commonwealth’s attorney that the county has held in 56 years. “…Tens of thousands of voters stood up in the face of the status quo and demanded change. That has rattled far-right conservatives near and far. Now, they’re scrambling out of fear to stop progress.”
Fahey campaign spokesperson Julia Block countered that Fahey’s federal work included periods under the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations.
Fahey has received endorsements from Horan, Ebert, and Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, who are all Democrats.
“Mr. Fahey seeks the support of Republican, Democrat, and Independent leaders in our community who are invested in maintaining and improving public safety,” Block said in a statement. “Mr. Fahey is running as an Independent because the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney ought to be run independently of partisan politics, putting the Fairfax County community above all.”