Ziegler’s attorney had argued in a motion filed last week that special prosecutors in Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office resorted to “extensive abuse of the special grand jury process” by repeatedly commenting on the credibility of witnesses and supplying answers to witnesses.
The special grand jury was empaneled to investigate the school system’s handing of two in-school sexual assaults in 2021.
Prosecutors called the claims “frivolous” and a “last-ditch claim.”
In a hearing Thursday in Loudoun County Circuit Court, Judge Douglas Fleming said the role of a special grand jury is to determine whether there is probable cause, and not to decide guilt or innocence. That, Fleming said, is what happens during trials.
But during her arguments Thursday, Ziegler’s attorney, Erin Harrigan, said prosecutors crossed a line by answering witnesses who said things such as “I don’t know” with remarks such as “Well, I do know.”
After the grand jury issued its indictments, Harrigan said, special grand jurors still had questions. She called the actions of the special counsel “egregious,” pointing out the seriousness of her request before trial.
But Theophani Stamos, special counsel to AG Miyares, rebutted those claims, saying prosecutors didn’t improperly influence grand jury deliberations and are allowed to offer opinions to witnesses and present evidence.
Stamos had previously argued that Harrigan should be sanctioned for filing the motion to dismiss the indictments. Judge Fleming ultimately denied that request.
In issuing his ruling, Fleming said two questions were central to the request to dismiss the indictments — did prosecutors exceed their role and was the special grad jury exposed to undue influence?
He didn’t believe either to be true in his ruling.
Indicted on three counts
The former superintendent was fired on Dec. 7, 2022, one day after the release of a scathing report from the special grand jury that heavily criticized the school system’s response to the sexual assaults.
The indictments against Ziegler were announced six days later.
Ziegler was indicted on three misdemeanor counts, including one count of false publication, apparently relating to statements he made at a June 2021 school board meeting.
The other two misdemeanor counts do not relate to the school system’s handling of the 2021 sexual assaults, but to an allegation that he penalized a school employee who testified before the grand jury.
Longtime school system spokesman Wayde Byard, was indicted on a felony perjury charge related to testimony he gave to the special grand jury, but was acquitted in June.
Miyares empaneled the special grand jury to investigate the school system, under an executive order from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who made the assaults in the school system a major part of his gubernatorial bid in 2021.
WTOP’s Neal Augenstein contributed to this report.