Loudoun Co. judge sets new jury trial for fired superintendent Ziegler, challenge possible

A Loudoun County, Virginia, judge set a new trial date for fired school superintendent Scott Ziegler and made no reference to Ziegler’s attorneys claim that the judge erred in ordering a new trial after setting aside a previous misdemeanor conviction.

Thursday morning, Circuit Court Judge Douglas Fleming set Feb. 3, 2025, as the first of a possible five-day jury trial, six weeks after throwing out Ziegler’s conviction for the retaliatory firing of a teacher who reported that an elementary school student inappropriately touched her.

Ziegler was convicted in September on one count of violating the state’s conflict of interest law for not renewing the contract of the special education teacher after she made the report.

Last month, Fleming set aside Ziegler’s conviction, finding that while there was “ample evidence” to support a jury’s conclusion that Ziegler knowingly retaliated against the special education teacher, Erin Brooks, faulty jury instructions rendered the conviction illegitimate. The judge then ordered a new trial.

As WTOP first reported, in a March 18 objection to the judge’s order setting a new trial, Ziegler’s attorney, Erin Harrigan, said Fleming’s opinion relied on an incorrect legal interpretation. The defense attorney said that in order to convict Ziegler, prosecutors would have had to prove that he knew the alleged conduct specifically violated the state’s conflict of interest law.

“There was no evidence whatsoever presented by the Commonwealth to the jury that Dr. Ziegler received training, communication, education, or guidance about the Conflict-of-Interest Act at all, let alone evidence that recommending a probationary teacher for nonrenewal could have been a violation of the Act,” Harrigan wrote in the filing.

During the brief Thursday hearing, after being reminded that her objection was still pending, Fleming moved straight to setting the dates for Ziegler’s new trial to early next year.

It’s unclear whether Ziegler’s attorney plans to file an interlocutory appeal. In the rarely used tactic, while one specific ruling by a trial court is appealed, other aspects of the case move forward.

Outside the courtroom, asked if there were a way to appeal Fleming’s decision to set trial without arguments over the merits of her objection, Harrington told WTOP, “We’re considering all options.”

Ziegler was indicted by a special grand jury, convened by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares, which was tasked with investigating the school system’s handling of two in-school sexual assaults by the same high school student in 2021. The case played out amid a debate over policies for transgender students and received national attention, in part because the teen boy who was convicted in both attacks wore a skirt during one of them.

Ziegler’s indictment on violating the conflict-of-interest law dealt with separate allegations brought by Brooks. She testified to the special grand jury and told school system critics that she was being repeatedly touched by a student inappropriately.

Prosecutors said Ziegler’s efforts to ensure Brooks’ teaching contract was not renewed amounted to retaliation for her speaking out on a matter of public interest, which is illegal under the conflict-of-interest statute.

Ziegler’s trial was the first time anyone in Virginia had ever been tried in court for allegedly violating the 2004 Virginia Conflict of Interest of Act.

In his September 2023 trial, Ziegler was acquitted of a second misdemeanor count of punishing an employee for attending court.

In February 2024, the judge granted Miyares’ motion to drop the final charge against Ziegler — he had been charged with falsely publishing in relation to a statement he made during a livestreamed school board meeting on June 22, 2021.

WTOP’s Jack Moore contributed to this report. 

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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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