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Friday, February 3, 2023
FairfaxSun Gazette editorial: More resources for public defenders?

Sun Gazette editorial: More resources for public defenders?

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Dawn Butorac is a name unfamiliar to most Fairfax residents. She is the chief public defender for the county, and recently was in front of the Board of Supervisors seeking more funding for her office.

While we will offer a caveat further below, we think Butorac raises some valid points.

(And some say we’re just a bunch of heartless fascist right-wingers who cobble together the Sun Gazette’s weekly editorials each week. Not at all: We’re a bunch of heartless fascist right-wingers who, when the other side makes reasonable arguments, acknowledge them. If only others on the political spectrum, from loopy left to muddled middle to raging right, could keep such an open mind.)

Butorac is correct that her office, which ends up defending those accused of crimes but lack the financial resources to get legal representation any other way, should receive the support it needs to provide adequate representation to its clients. Society owes everyone accused of a crime competent representation.


The challenge for Butorac, her staff and the Board of Supervisors is to find ways to cost-effectively improve the representation for those involved in the roughly 7,000 cases handed by the public defender and her 20 additional attorneys annually.

Not surprisingly given the times in which we live, the conversation with supervisors devolved into an “equity” trope – which too frequently does little to move the ball forward toward solving the problem under consideration.

Left unsaid throughout the give-and-take among board members (and here we get to the “caveat further below” cited above) is that, these days in Fairfax County, it often seems as if criminal suspects have not one but two public defenders. They would be the public defender’s office itself, and the office of commonwealth’s attorney Steve Descano, who continues too often to follow the playbook of those who funded his election – viewing many criminals as victims and, sadly, not taking the real victims into account.

If that’s going to remain the case until at least the next election for prosecutor rolls around, is there really a need to give the public defender’s office more resources? It’s a fair question, and one that we’re sure few of the county supervisors even have considered, let alone voiced out loud.

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