Southampton commonwealth’s attorney candidate: James S. Ellenson
Published 6:01 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2023
1.) Can you briefly summarize why you decided to run for election as Southampton County commonwealth’s attorney?
I was approached by people along South Street originally asking me to run. I then spoke with Jamie Lee, Dr. Edwards, Ron and Chris Cornwell, and a number of other people, all urging me to run. So I did. I see it as my civic duty.
2.) What experience and achievements would you cite that support your bid as being the best candidate to serve as the county’s commonwealth’s attorney?
I have tried over 150 jury trials, criminal and civil in state and federal court. I am one of only a few lawyers in the country designated as Learned Counsel in federal court to be lead attorney in death penalty cases. I have tried a number of death penalty cases. I have been hired by private clients to appear in almost every jurisdiction in Virginia over my 42 year career. I have a wide breadth and knowledge of the law and know what the middle of the road looks like. When the US Attorney, FBI, and ATF executed a search warrant on my client who is charged with allowing her 6 year old son to have a gun, which he used to shoot his teacher, they called me to witness the search. That is the level of transparency which I am used to and will implement.
3.) How would you describe your legal philosophy, and how would it be applied in the commonwealth’s attorney position?
Reasonableness and fairness, while at the same time demanding accountability, respect and trust. Midpoint of the guidelines and don’t overcharge. My opponent said to me he was surprised I was running since he never thought I wanted to be a prosecutor. That demonstrates his fundamental misunderstanding of his role. Being a prosecutor is only part of the job. Being a Commonwealth Attorney includes so much more. It is disclosing unfavorable evidence. It is admitting if a mistake was made. It is always convicting the right guy. It is demanding the police do their jobs scrupulously and correctly. It is treating victims and defendants with respect and dignity. People are usually better than their worst day.
4.) If elected, what goals do you hope to achieve over the next four years in your term as commonwealth’s attorney?
To restore trust in the system. By implementing the above philosophy, people will know they will get a fair shake in court. Knowing they won’t be steamrolled and knowing the police will have to do their jobs meticulously and scrupulously will result in more respect for the law and the legal system. That, in turn, will result in a decrease in crime since people will know they won’t be railroaded.
5.) Is there anything that has been said about you by your opponent or others during the campaign that you would like to directly counter or respond to in this space?
The Commonwealth Attorney is the captain of the ship. He is ultimately responsible for arresting someone in the middle of the night. He is obligated to see that the school board is spending the taxpayers’ money wisely and can account for every penny. I had previously demanded the Franklin city council adhere to the Voting Rights Act in adopting their Redistricting. They did. The SH school board simply needs to be held to the same level of transparency and accountability.