Retired Circuit Court Judge Richard B. Potter on Tuesday ruled that Chief Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Nicole Wittmann is qualified to run for Commonwealth’s Attorney this November.
On Aug. 20, a petition filed by four Loudoun Democrats claimed Wittmann was a Herndon resident who was not qualified to run for public office in Loudoun. The complaint presented evidence that she had not abandoned her domicile in Fairfax County at the time she filed her candidacy in February. They claimed that although Wittmann, the Republican nominee, was renting a room from a co-worker, Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Alex Rueda, in Leesburg at the time, she did not regularly reside there.
Following a five-hour hearing—which included testimony from Rueda, the real estate agent who sold Wittmann’s Herndon home, a representative from the Sensei Enterprises digital forensics company and Wittmann herself—Potter found that Wittmann was a qualified voter in Loudoun County on Feb. 21 when she filed her candidacy for office. Under Virginia law, candidates for office must be qualified to vote in the county where the office will be held. Wittman filed her Certification of Candidate Qualification the same day she filed a new voter registration that listed the Leesburg address.
In court, Wittmann testified that upon learning in early February that Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Plowman was selected to an eight-year term as a judge for the 20th Judicial Circuit, she intended to make Loudoun her home and to “never return to Herndon.”
“There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to become a Loudoun County resident … win or lose … 100 percent,” Wittmann said.
Wittmann said that while she searched for apartments to rent, Rueda offered her a room in her Leesburg townhome for $205 each month, a deal Rueda said the two agreed to on Feb. 7. Although Rueda required Wittmann to pay the rent only once, since the two are close friends and she felt “uncomfortable” charging her, Wittmann’s defense team argued that there is no requirement for Virginia residents to pay for their living arrangements and that Wittmann’s living in Leesburg counted as her Loudoun domicile.
During her time living with Rueda, Wittmann said she stayed in the Leesburg townhome intermittently, and only stayed there for a full week on two occasions. She said her sporadic time spent there was a result of her family needs. She said that if her husband, a practicing attorney in Fairfax, came home later than 9 p.m., she would often stay in Herndon for the night and that she also had to sometimes take her sons to school in the mornings if her husband was required to be at work earlier than usual.
Wittmann said she and her husband put their Herndon home up for sale on April 27, secured a loan in May, and moved to Sterling on July 31 as a family. She said she and her family waited until then to move into a permanent home in Loudoun so that her sons could finish out the schoolyear.
Wittmann said while Plowman’s impending departure and her desire to run for his seat as Commonwealth’s Attorney was the event that triggered her move into Loudoun, her drive to become a county resident was a long-term goal that she and her family had been considering for at least the past six years, citing a desire for a larger house and better schools to support her two teenaged sons’ athletic ambitions.
She said that she and her husband had previously listed their Herndon home for sale in 2013, but that a sale never went through. She testified that her family had more recently looked at moving to Loudoun last November.
In his questioning, Michael York, the attorney representing the four petitioners, argued that Wittmann had not established her domicile in Loudoun on Feb. 21 by intentionally abandoning her Fairfax County domicile, saying that did not occur until July.
York argued that Charles King, the attorney representing Wittmann in the civil case, had not presented evidence that she was no longer living in Herndon in February. He pointed out that although Wittmann testified she had campaigned a bit in Rueda’s neighborhood, she didnot bring any of those residents to testify on her behalf in court.
York also argued that a report prepared by Sensei Enterprises on Wittmann’s cell phone records showed that Wittmann had predominantly remained in Herndon at the time of her filing for candidacy.
Wittmann countered York’s questioning by claiming that she and her husband and sons share the same iCloud account and that many of the data points showing a phone in a particular location weren’t from her.
After deliberating for about a half hour, Potter ruled that Loudoun was, and is, the center of Wittmann’s domestic, social and civic life—noting that Wittmann’s boys have consistently played sports in the county, that Wittmann has worked in the county for 14 years and that she has many Loudoun-based friends.
“This is where I want to be, this is where I wanted to be, this is where I have been,” Wittmann said.
Wittmann faces Leesburg attorney Buta Biberaj, a Democrat, in the election for Commonwealth’s Attorney on Nov. 5.