University hosts debate

Candidates for commonwealth’s attorney debate their positions on domestic violence, drug crimes in Lexington and Rockbridge County


Ellen Kanziger '18

Josh Elrod, middle, and Chris Billias, right, answer questions at the commonwealth’s attorney’s debate on Wednesday at the Law School.

Jordan Cohen

The Millhiser Moot Court Room at Washington & Lee University’s law school was abuzz with a combined presence of Lexington community members and Washington & Lee students Oct. 7.

The reason, as Washington & Lee Journalism Professor Kevin Finch shared in his opening remarks as moderator, was to practice democracy.

“If we practiced it more we would probably get better at it,” Finch said.

The 45 minute debate between commonwealth’s attorney hopefuls Josh Elrod and Chris Billias provided an opportunity to do just that.

Elrod, a local criminal defense attorney, is a Lexington native. The son of Lexington Mayor Mimi Elrod, the younger Elrod has practiced law in the city of Lexington for 14 years.

Billias, while not originally from Lexington, is a graduate of Washington & Lee’s School of Law. Billias has served under former Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert  “Bucky” Joyce since 2008.

The two squared off in front of a mostly-full courtroom, where questions presented by Washington & Lee students offered the opportunity for the candidates to articulate their stances on a number of topics.

“I believe I’m the most qualified, and the only candidate here with prosecutorial experience,” Billias said in his opening remarks.

The notion of prosecutorial experience was one Billias relied heavily on throughout the debate, making use of his experience with prosecuting sex crimes when asked about issues of domestic violence in Rockbridge County.

“These crimes are very difficult crimes. I’ve been prosecuting these now since I’ve been in this office,” Billias said. “I’m the primary prosecutor dealing with sex offenses and offenses against children. It takes a lot of wisdom, experience to be able to deal with these kinds of cases at an effective level.”

Elrod articulated a desire to see greater steps toward prevention.

“I think that there is more that can be done, particularly in the area of domestic violence,” Elrod said. “I think there’s even more room for particular [kinds] of intervention…. That’s the type of thing I would like to see.”

The most contentious issue of the evening fell in the arena of drug courts. Elrod, an advocate for the installing this program, said he felt drug courts were the most logical approach to addressing drug crimes.

“What you’re fundamentally trying to do with the drug courts is use the judicial system to break somebody of addiction and get them out of the cycle of coming back into the criminal justice system and being incarcerated,” Elrod said.

Billias said he has concerns about the tax burden this type of court would put on the community.

“The locality has to pick up the cost of that, and before we approach the Board of Supervisors and before I would ask for the tax dollars to support that, I want to make sure that it’s the most efficient use of those dollars,” Billias said.

In an additional minute granted by the moderator, Elrod said that drug courts would not necessarily become a financial issue.

debate“It’s not necessarily an issue of spending more re
sources or spending more money on the

problem, just the way that we deal with it,” he said.

Reflecting on the debate, Finch said he thought the night was a success.

“I think it was an important experience for the community, for Lexington and greater Rockbridge county,” Finch said. “There were community members in there who are not affiliated with Washington and Lee, who were there just because this was an opportunity to hear from the two people would be the chief law enforcement officers in their county. “