Jeff Schapiro had a great video segment last week that really got me to thinking about the Henrico County Commonwealth Attorney’s race. The Republican political machine in Henrico County is working to put a candidate into an office that he is emphatically not qualified to hold.
Henrico Republicans have had their candidate for this race picked out for a long, long time. That candidate was Matt Geary, but Geary has run afoul of Eric Cantor’s political machine. Cantor and other Henrico GOP members have tried to get Geary to give up his Republican nomination, but Geary has refused.
So the Republican machine in Henrico has decided to run Delegate Bill Janis as an independent (wink, wink) in the race. Jeff Schapiro hinted pretty strongly at Janis’ lack of relevant experience for the position of Commonwealth’s Attorney for Henrico. I think that it’s time that we look at the requirements of the job of Commonwealth’s Attorney and then ask if Bill Janis is really qualified for this job. So what are the duties of a Commonwealth’s Attorney?
According to the current Commonwealth’s Attorney for Henrico, Republican Wade Kizer, those duties are:
The Commonwealth’s Attorney is responsible for representing the people of Henrico County to present evidence in court against persons charged with committing crimes. Cases presented by the Commonwealth’s Attorney are tried in the Circuit, General District, and Juvenile Courts. In Henrico County there are 5 Circuit Court judges, 5 Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court judges and 4 General District Court judges. The Commonwealth Attorney’s staff includes a Chief Deputy, 6 Deputies and 18 assistant Commonwealth’s Attorneys.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney also coordinates the extradition of criminals who have fled the state, prosecutes asset forfeitures, and tries individuals for failure to pay child support and failure to obey other court orders.
The Commonwealth’s Attorney seeks justice. The Commonwealth Attorney’s Office oversees the Victim/Witness Unit, which counsels crime victims regarding their legal rights and offers advice about rehabilitative services and other community resources available for victims’ protection.The Victim/Witness Unit also notifies victims and witnesses of court appearances and pretrial interviews.
Beyond the preparation and trial of criminal cases, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office advises law enforcement agencies, consults with and advises the Henrico County Division of Police regarding policies and procedures, answers citizen inquiries concerning the criminal justice system, and provides assistance for on-going criminal investigations of the Henrico County Division of Police and the Virginia State Police
The majority of the cases the Commonwealth’s Attorney handles are brought by law enforcement officers, although this office also prosecutes cases initiated by a citizen’s complaint.
The job of the Commonwealth’s Attorney is, first and foremost then, to function as criminal law attorney, and especially as a manager of the county’s prosecutors. Has Bill Janis ever worked as a prosecutor? Has he ever tried a criminal case? What business does Bill Janis have managing a team of prosecutors?
Has Bill Janis won any awards for his skill in the practice of criminal law? Let’s look at his list of achievements from his House of Delegates site:
Meritorious Service Medal
Navy Commendation Medal (two)
Navy Achievement Medal (two)
Boy Scouts of America, Eagle Scout
MADD Virginia, Outstanding Leadership in the General Assembly to Reduce Drunk Driving
National Federation of Independent Business, Defender of Small Business Award (2005)
Virginia Council for Private Education, Child Advocate Award (2005)
Virginia Optometric Association, Meritorious Award (2006)
Virginia Horse Council, Legislator of the Year (2006)
Century Council, Outstanding Commitment to Fight Drunk Driving and Underage Drinking (2008)
Knights of Virginia Assistance for the Retarded, Service Award (2008)
Virginia Association of Heath Plans, Distinguished Public Service Award (2008)
Washington Regional Alcohol Program, Outstanding Service Award (2008)
Eagle Forum, Distinguished State Legislator of the Year (2009)
An impressive list, but no mention of the practice of criminal law. Janis graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1999. Assuming he passed the bar on his first try, and I assume he did because he’s a smart guy, then he probably became an admitted attorney sometime around November of 1999. That means that this November, Bill Janis will have about twelve years of legal practice under his belt, total.
I don’t think that any of those years were spent as a prosecutor. I doubt that any of those years were spent in the practice of criminal law. Has Bill Janis ever participated as an attorney in a criminal trial? Is it unethical for Janis to seek a legal position he knows he isn’t qualified for?
If Bill Janis has never practiced criminal law or prosecuted a criminal case what then is he planning to do when or if he is elected to the post of Commonwealth’s Attorney of Henrico? The answer to this question is pretty clear: if elected as Commonwealth’s Attorney Bill Janis will collect a paycheck worth $180,000 a year and generous benefits nd he will dump most of his work onto his deputies.
Bill Janis isn’t qualified to have an opinion on whether or not a particular prosecution should or should not proceed. Bill Janis is qualified to have an opinion about how a prosecutor’s office is run at all. He has no experience, has put in no time, and has paid no dues.
Bill Janis is a professional politician and if Henrico voters elect him that is what they will be getting: a professional politician. Janis can’t contribute meaningfully to the administration of justice in Henrico because he has no relevant experience as a prosecutor, or even as a defense attorney. So what Bill Janis is apparently planning to do is practice politics full time while dumping most of his work on his deputies.
Bill Janis is not qualified to be a Commonwealth’s Attorney, and the people of Henrico should think long and hard about putting a career politician into a demanding role he is completely unprepared for.