In Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorneys — known as district attorneys in other states — are elected to four-year terms and are in charge of prosecuting criminal and traffic offenses. Incumbent Diana Wheeler O’Connell is running against S. Page Higginbotham III for Commonwealth’s Attorney of Orange County.

O’Connell won the seat in a tight election, which included a recount, against Higginbotham in 2019. O’Connell is seeking her sixth term. This is the only contested Commonwealth’s Attorney race in our guide.

Charlottesville Tomorrow designed a questionnaire based on more than 200 responses we received to a voter survey. O’Connell answered these questions by email in August. Higginbotham did not respond to multiple requests to participate in the Voter Guide via the email address he provided when he registered his candidacy.

Can you explain what the job of Commonwealth’s Attorney is and why you are running?

Diana Wheeler O’Connell: The Commonwealth’s Attorney is a minister of justice. It is to see that justice is done, individuals’ constitutional rights are protected, victims have their day in court, and enable the community to hear the evidence and determine the appropriate response to criminal offenses.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney offers guidance to law enforcement officers and advises the grand jury. The Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecutes offenders in the courtroom and seeks justice. I am running because I am invested in this community. I raised my children here and I have served this community for 30 years, serving as prosecutor for more than 20 years. We recently started a drug treatment court that I believe will save lives and provide a firm path for rehabilitation. I have invested a lot of time and effort in setting this court up, beginning with obtaining a federal grant for almost $550,000 to start it.

S. Page Higginbotham III: Did not provide a response

What are the biggest challenges facing the office?

O’Connell: The challenges are always to keep up with the changes in the criminal law that the Appellate Courts and the General Assembly make each year, to provide trained, competent, experienced attorney coverage for the four courts that meet every week (Circuit, General District, Juvenile/Domestic and Drug Treatment).

Higginbotham: Did not provide a response

Do you have any certifications or qualifications for this position that you want voters to know about?

O’Connell: I have extensive training in investigating and prosecuting homicide cases, sexual assault cases with child and adult victims, drug cases, sexual trafficking cases, financial crimes, elder abuse and exploitation cases, property crimes, animal cruelty and abuse cases, firearms violations, and possession and distribution of child pornography, driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs cases, and training in the establishment of, and operation of Drug Treatment Court.

Higginbotham: Did not provide a response

What is your philosophy about prosecuting crimes?

O’Connell: Treat every individual with respect, recognize and understand the trauma victims and their families suffer, and ensure that no miscarriage of justice occurs.

Higginbotham: Did not provide a response

This is the only contested race for Commonwealth’s Attorney in central Virginia. Why do you think that is?

O’Connell: Orange County has many contested races this election cycle, for every elected office with the exception of the purely administrative positions of Clerk, Treasurer and Commissioner of the Revenue. Orange County is a dynamic, robust community that has many voices, and is in the process of deciding the future of the county.

Higginbotham: Did not provide a response

More about the Orange County Commonwealth’s Attorney election

Polls in Virginia close at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 7, night. The Virginia Department of Elections will publish election results in real time, as they arrive from precincts around the state. To view them, head to this link. These are unofficial results until they are certified. Here’s more about how to get election results.

  • Sept. 22: First day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office.
  • Oct. 16: Deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration. You can also register after this date, and on election day, but you will vote with a provisional ballot, could take longer for officials to count because they will verify your eligibility.
  • Oct. 27: Deadline to apply for a ballot to be mailed to you. Your request must be received by your local registrar by 5:00 p.m.
  • Oct. 28: Voter registration offices open for early voting.
  • Nov. 4: The last day of in-person early voting at your registrar.
  • Nov. 7: Election Day. Here is where you can find your polling place.

Need to know if you’re eligible to vote? Here are resources from the Virginia Department of Elections.


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