Peter H. Luke has decided not to seek re-election as commonwealth’s attorney in Rappahannock County in November, a post he’s held since 1984.
“I’ll be 64 this July. If I ran again I’d be 68 at the end of the term. It’s time for somebody other than me to do the commonwealth’s attorney job,” he said during an interview on Tuesday in his office on Gay Street, across from the county courthouse.
“I’m trying to cut back to give me time to do other things. It’s very difficult in terms of getting time off when you work in a one-man office,” he said. His last day in office will be Dec. 31.
Luke said he’d like to travel and spend more time bicycle riding and indulging in his love of local history. He said he does not plan to practice law.
Two attorneys have already declared their intent to run for election to succeed Luke — Nancie Gallegos Kie and Art L. Goff.
Luke said, “I’m not going to be picking sides. I’ll be glad to work with whoever gets elected to make sure there’s a good transition.”
He is also offering to stay on for another year in his other role as county attorney. In that capacity, he provides legal counsel to the board of supervisors and attends their meetings as well as the meetings of the planning commission and board of zoning appeals as directed.
When Luke was first elected, the commonwealth attorney also served as county attorney. The two posts are now separate.
“The commonwealth’s attorney is not obliged to be the county attorney, though he is allowed to be. He or she could consider doing that. It’s all up the air,” explained County Administrator John McCarthy.
He said the board has been “very happy with his [Luke’s] service.”
Luke said, “I feel like I’ve had a good run” as commonwealth’s attorney. I’m pleased we’ve been able to keep the crime rate down during my terms in office, including violent crime.”
Luke announced his plan not to run for reelection in an email he sent to local and state officials last Friday (Jan. 28).
“I am making this announcement this early to give people who are interested in running for Commonwealth’s Attorney ample time to get their ducks in a row,” he said in the email. “Some have said they would not run against me, which I appreciate, so this frees them to become a candidate. I will not here dwell on the reasons for my decision, but only say I feel fortunate to have been able to work with such a good group of people, many of you for over 20 years, and look forward to completing my last year of service with you.”
He said he was offering to stay on as county attorney, subject to the approval of the supervisors, to “give the county time, after the November 2011 elections, to decide what they want to do about a new permanent county attorney, and then allow for an orderly transition.”
Luke’s longevity as commonwealth’s attorney is reflected on his Virginia license plate, which carries the number 11. “That means,” he said, “there are only 10 Commonwealth Attorneys who have served longer than I have. And that means it’s probably time for me to retire.”
James W. Fletcher III, the current head of the Rappahannock County Bar Association, when asked about Luke’s departure, said, “It’s a great loss.
“I’ve seen him every week for 20 years and I’ve known him since before he became commonwealth attorney,” Fletcher said.
He said he’s faced Luke in court numerous times. “He’s a superb attorney and a complete gentleman. His word is his bond.”
Fletcher said the two individuals who are now running for the job, Kie and Goff, “are both good attorneys.”
Goff said that he has been an attorney in Page and Rappahannock counties since 1997. He worked in the public defender’s office in Page County, and served as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney there from 2002 until 2009. Since June of 2009 he has been an associate in the Rodger Smith Law Firm in Luray, where he specializes in criminal cases.
Goff, 45, has lived in Ben Venue on Richmond Road since the late 1980s. He and his wife, Kelly, have a son, Carter, 5.
He said he found his work in the Page County commonwealth’s attorney’s office “fascinating. I love working with law enforcement. I felt like I fit in.”
Page County Commonwealth’s Attorney John Hennessy said that Goff is “a very talented and gifted trial attorney. You’ll see that when hopefully he undertakes the duties over there. He’s one of the more forthright and honest people I’ve ever run across.”
He said Goff handled major cases and gained experience on the administrative side of the office. “Art is extremely well qualified” to be a commonwealth’s attorney, Hennessy said.
Goff said his approach to voters would be that he has “quite a lot of experience as a prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. I’ve had an excellent rapport with law enforcement. And I got to really know about the technical ins and outs. I’ve not had just trial experience but experience dealing with victims. I know how to get things done. I have a lot of institutional knowledge.”
Goff said he has worked as a special prosecutor in Rappahannock County on cases when Luke was away or had a conflict of interest.
Kie, 31, sent out an e-mail on Tuesday in which she announced her candidacy.
“As a former prosecutor, I understand what it means to stand face to face with criminals in a courtroom, face domestic violence and rehabilitate delinquent juveniles,” she said in the announcement. “I know we need to be aggressive when it comes to enforcing justice in our community.”
Kie graduated from Rappahannock County High School in 1997, received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a law degree from Howard University. She is the daughter of Sam and Wanda Snead, who live in the town of Washington. Kie and her husband, Brian, have two boys and they live across the street from her parents.
Kie has her own law practice, Kie Law, in Front Royal.
She went to work as a prosecutor in the Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office in 2006 after working for a firm in Alexandria on personal injury cases. She worked on juvenile and domestic relations cases in Warren as well as General District and Circuit Court cases.
“I thrived in it. I loved being in court. I loved the police aspect of it,” she said during an interview.
“I was known to be tough. Defense attorneys know what I would do and what I wouldn’t do.”
She handled misdemeanor and felony cases including drug cases and an attempted murder case that kept her busy until one week before the birth of one of her children.
She said gained additional case experience and exposure to the business side of running a law office by opening her own practice. She’s handled criminal defense and domestic cases, including divorces, child custody and foster care.
She said working in a commonwealth’s attorney office is “the only job I’ve ever loved. You either like the job, have a passion for it and are willing to do the hard work or you don’t.
“Anybody who knows me knows that it was my passion. People want to have confidence in a person who will be able to do the job, have ample training and know the people she’ll have to work with.”
Kie said “I’m a team player and I’m a hometown girl. I want to be here.”
John S. Bell, an associate at Pond, Athey, Athey & Pond in Front Royal, said he worked as an assistant commonwealth attorney in Warren County. He had left the staff to work as a defense attorney by the time Kie joined the commonwealth attorney’s office but got to know her and her work.
“I was very impressed with Nancy as a young prosecutor and her incredible work ethic. She was very zealous in the job but had a large helping of common sense, something you don’t always see in young prosecutors.”
He said he observed that she “had a sense of fairness and also a willingness to tell it like it is. She was in a job that requires a lot of legal know-how, good courtroom skills and an ability to work with people. She had the skills, common sense, compassion and ability to get the job done.”