A Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge said Wednesday that she needed more time to decide whether to allow a political action committee — made up of mostly parents — to join in the cases seeking the removal of School Board members Brenda Sheridan (Sterling District) and Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian District.)
The judge has also been asked to disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney, Buta Biberaj (D) from prosecuting the case.
Biberaj is representing the petitioners from the Sterling and Algonkian districts calling for the school board members’ removal.
Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeanette A. Irby, who listened to the motions during a seven-hour hearing, estimated she would have a ruling in two weeks at the earliest as she awaits the transcript and additional documents from counsel.
“To all sides and everyone involved, and for everyone who has an interest ... be civil in discourse,” Irby said, adding that people would be more incline to listen one’s opinion when presented dispassionately.
The two school board members, represented by Dawn Boyce, of Bancroft, McGavin, Horvath & Judkins, PC, argued against the motion to allow Fight for Schools to join the suit.
“There had to be evidence that they [Fight for Schools] have something distinct and special and unique that gives them a cause of action, in essence, against Ms. Sheridan, which they can’t do because there simply isn’t one,” Boyce said.
Boyce argued that allowing such a political action group be involved would set a precedent for groups who “have an interest” in future cases.
Attorney David Warrington, who is representing Fight for Schools, argued that the motion should be granted.
“They have interests that are aligned with the citizens of the Sterling District [and] they’re entitled to have a school board member that renders effective incredible service required under the school board policy,” Warrington said.
Biberaj said Fight for Schools, which coordinated the petition, did not provide any evidence to support their motions. The group claims the prosecutor was a member of private Facebook group targeting parents against critical race theory and shared on social media a newspaper opinion piece that discussed the academic concept.
“So, anyone who uses social media, anyone who speaks to the newspaper, anyone who talks to their neighbor [and] says, ‘by the way, these are my two thoughts, so let’s have a conversation about this issue,’ then that creates a bias,” Biberaj said, arguing that such logic is flawed. “Then, I’m going to start yelling and screaming about the First Amendment because that means we can never speak about having conversations about anyone.”
A second motions hearing is scheduled for Feb. 23, starting at 10 a.m. for Sheridan and Reaser at 1 p.m.
Petitions to remove an elected official from office require signatures from district residents equal to at least 10% of the votes cast for that official’s post during the last election, according to Virginia Code.
Further, the code states that upon petition, “a circuit court may remove from office any elected officer or officer who has been appointed to fill an elective office, residing within the jurisdiction of the court for negligence of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that negligence of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”
As previously reported, Fight for Schools is also seeking the removal of Ian Serotkin of the Blue Ridge District and At-Large member Denise Corbo. Fight For Schools had not filed a petition seeking their removal as of Tuesday morning.
The late Broad Run District member Leslee King was removed from the group’s recall list after her death at the end of August. King, who was 74, died due to complications from heart surgery.
Barts resigned on Nov. 2, amid Fight for Schools’ effort to recall her from her post. She cited threats against her and her family as the reason for her resignation.
Her case was dismissed last month.Recall for Reaser: Signatures, claims
The petition to recall Reaser received at least 1,859 signatures, according to a Nov. 9 email to the Times-Mirror from Fight For Schools.
Petitioners claim in their filings that Reaser routinely limited the First Amendment rights of speakers and listeners by shutting down public comment and putting in place rules to prevent speakers based on their viewpoints; and had general knowledge of a sexual assault case involving a teenager and the teen’s subsequent transfer to a different school, where he then committed an assault on a second student while awaiting trial.
Further, the group claims she did not leave a private Facebook group when the suspension of a teacher and his subsequent lawsuit against a Loudoun County Public Schools was being discussed by former board member Barts and others in the group.
Recall for Sheridan: Signatures, claims
The Citizens of Sterling group, which collected 1,217 signatures, claims that Sheridan committed neglect of duty, misuse of office, and incompetence in the performance of her duties in their petition.
The filing includes allegations that Sheridan “limited the First Amendment rights of speakers and listeners by shutting down public comment” at board meetings and implementing rules to curb speakers based on their viewpoint.