Get to Know Victoria Burton-Harris

Victoria Burton-Harris is the Chief Assistant Prosecutor for Washtenaw County, appointed to this position Jan. 1, 2021 by Prosecutor Eli Savit.

Prior to her appointment, Victoria spent her career as a criminal defense and family law attorney. 

A Flint native and a graduate of Flint Southwestern Academy, Victoria earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and African-American Studies from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

She graduated from Wayne State University Law School in 2012. During her time at Wayne Law, she taught high school students at Southeastern High School and worked at the Free Legal Aid Clinic as a student advocate for underprivileged families. She served as president of the Black Law Students Association, encouraging students to use their legal experience to create positive change for community residents. 

In 2014, she opened a private firm in the heart of downtown Detroit specializing in family law and criminal defense at the state and federal trial court level. 

Victoria has represented hundreds of families across Michigan in cases ranging from child custody to murder. Her work has been highlighted on CNN, Democracy Now, The Guardian, Essence, The New York Times, The Appeal, The Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and local Detroit news stations FOX 2 Detroit, WDIV and WXYZ Detroit.

Her passion for justice and equality has led to her involvement with several grassroots organizations as a legal adviser, including We The People-Detroit, Metro Detroit Association for Cab Drivers, BYP-100 and New Era Detroit. She has served on the Legal Services Advisory Committee for HAVEN of Oakland County, developing trauma-informed training criteria and procedures for attorneys handling domestic violence cases. She has also served on the New Lawyers Advisory Board for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, where she has also presented at conferences and seminars. She sits on the Coalition for Police Transparency & Accountability, National Conference of Black Lawyers, the Board of Directors for the National Lawyers Guild Michigan chapter and the Board of Directors for Covenant House Michigan, a youth homeless shelter where she developed a mentoring program for residents.

Victoria’s philosophy is that we will not punish our way out of crime and into safer communities – that positive change will only come from investing in people and in communities to address the root causes of harmful behavior. She believes the only way we achieve true freedom as a people is to amplify the voices of those most impacted. The people impacted usually have the solutions, yet are furthest from the resources. 

Victoria lives in Ann Arbor with her husband, Robert Burton-Harris and their four-year-old son, Langston.
By Teresa Killeen
Washtenaw County Bar Association

Did you always know you wanted to be an attorney?  Yes—I knew as a child that I enjoyed helping people. As a child, I saw all three of my parents (yep—I am blessed with two Dads) go above and beyond to help people in any way they could. I watched my parents buy coats for kids at bus stops they passed daily, pack extra lunch in my lunch box for children in school who didn’t have anything, and even shelter people who needed a temporary home. I have always found comfort in providing comfort to others around me—making people feel valued and heard. I was raised on the mantra “I’d rather be a servant, than to be served.” For me, the true essence of an attorney is a servant.
Tell us a little about your family. Thirteen years ago, while attending Michigan as a college student, I met my best friend and love of my life. Robert and I now have a beautiful son, Langston, who embodies Black Boy Joy. Robert and I practiced law together in Detroit, until he became a public defender with the new Wayne County Public Defender Office. When we aren’t spending our weekends at community events, we enjoy family hikes at many of the county parks (so many here in Washtenaw County!) and building marble mazes with our little guy. One of my favorite things about our marriage is the shared commitment to serving people in an effort to help us all reach freedom. Having Langston alongside us for the journey is a bonus.
Any words of wisdom to pass on to new lawyers? As it relates to your work, try to operate within four boundaries:
1) Like who you look at everyday in the mirror – are you setting out for a day of creativity, building, radical love in action and true service?
2) Be able to sleep at night – have you spent your day putting your best foot forward and doing work you’re proud of?
3) Work for folks who are well-respected, ethical, and hard-working – their reputation may become your own.
4) Do work that sets your soul on fire – if you love what you do, you’ll spend the time honing your skills and using your power to change the lives of others around you.
What are your favorite local hangouts? I love the Arb in the summer and fall, for walks and picnics. Crazy Wisdom has been a favorite since college. La Dolce Vita and The Last Word are my go-to spots for good drinks and a chill atmosphere. I am often seen (almost daily ) at Detroit Street Filling Station for lunch.
What’s the greatest gift we can give ourselves? I’ve asked myself this question quite a few times in my life. I always come back to this: “permission to be our true selves.” Many of us spend a significant part of our lives trying to learn and understand who we are. It’s a journey, and not an easy one. Once we set out on that journey, we owe it to ourselves to be true to what we find. We only get one chance at life. Find your light, and live in it—unapologetically, boldly, and proudly.
Reprinted from the WCBA newsletter Res Ipsa Loquitur, with permission from the Washtenaw County Bar Association.

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