Judge warns against threats in Loudoun County school board recall hearing

The Loudoun County, Virginia, judge overseeing an advocacy group’s effort to recall School Board Chair Brenda Sheridan has preemptively said she expects the politically charged civil action will not devolve into threats.

In October, Leesburg representative Beth Barts resigned from the board during a similar recall proceeding in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

“I oversaw Ms. Barts’ matter, and I understand she resigned because of threats,” Judge Jeanette Irby said. “I would hope anyone in this room, participating in the judicial process would not resort to threats.”

”That’s a terrible thing,” Irby said, saying she expected decorum. “This matter will be determined through the judicial process, perhaps not to anyone or everyone’s satisfaction.”

The petition calling for Sheridan’s removal includes allegations she limited the First Amendment rights of attendees at board meetings by shutting down public comments and placing limits on who can speak.

It also accuses her of not doing enough to prevent a male student suspected of sexual assault from being transferred to a high school, where he assaulted a second girl.

During the Monday scheduling hearing, Irby said there are already several “interesting issues in the matter,” in which a group of Sterling, Virginia, residents signed a recall petition. According to Virginia code, the petition must be signed by at least 10% of registered voters in the jurisdiction where the official was elected.

Sheridan, who has vowed to complete her elected term, sat between her attorneys, Julia Judkins and Dawn Boyce, as the judge and attorneys set a schedule to argue matters in the case.

On Jan. 5, the judge will hear arguments of whether to allow Fight For Schools — the group that has led the recall efforts against Sheridan, as well as board members Barts and Atoosa Reaser, to be a party in the court proceedings.

In addition to filing its motion to join the case, Fight For Schools has already filed a motion asking the judge to disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj from representing the Sterling residents, saying she has voiced opposition to the recall effort.

Ian Prior, executive director of Fight For Schools, told WTOP “I fully agree” with the judge’s remarks about threats, “as do the parents of Fight For Schools who have had to deal with their own share of threatening mail and emails. People should feel free to exercise their First Amendment rights substantively and passionately, but personal attacks and threatening communications directed at elected officials and at members of the community are unacceptable.”

Irby set a three-day trial, from March 21 through 23. Sheridan’s attorney said she would ask for a bench, rather than a jury trial, although Irby said that matter will be discussed later, after she decides whether Loudoun County prosecutors will be representing the Sterling residents, and whether Fight For Schools will be admitted as a party to the case.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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