Loudoun Co. school spokesman seeks venue change, claims Youngkin, Miyares tainted jury pool

The attorney for Loudoun County Public Schools spokesman Wayde Byard is asking his felony perjury trial be transferred, claiming Virginia’s governor and attorney general have infected the entire jury pool, WTOP has learned.

The charges against Byard came after a special grand jury report accused the school system of a “stunning lack of openness” in how it handled two sexual assaults by the same student in two different high schools.

In a Motion for Change of Venue this week, Byard’s attorney Jennifer Leffler said Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Attorney General Jason Miyares “have routinely referred to the entire jury pool in Loudoun County as victims of the alleged cover-up by LCPS and [Byard], as the spokesperson for the county.”

Leffler says Virginia law dictates potential jurors must be dismissed if they have a potential stake in the case they would hear.

On the day he took office, Youngkin issued Executive Order No. 4, authorizing an investigation into the school system’s handling of two sexual assaults by the same student in two different high schools.

Youngkin’s executive order stated, “The Loudoun County School Board and school administrators withheld key details and knowingly lied to parents about the assaults,” and “Virginia parents deserve answers and assurances that the safety of their children will never be compromised.”

As the public information officer for LCPS, Byard disseminates information to parents, other Loudoun County residents and the media about the school system.

On Sept. 28, Byard was indicted on a charge of perjury, although that wasn’t made public until December, when Miyares announced Byard and former school superintendent Scott Ziegler had been indicted by a special grand jury who was investigating the sexual assaults.

Two of the charges against Ziegler aren’t related to the students’ assaults. One of the charges, false publication to the media, appears to be related to how the school system communicated about the sexual assaults.

New details emerge on Byard’s perjury charge

While it was known that Byard’s perjury charge was based on his testimony before the special grand jury, Leffler’s motion includes new details: “In an informal briefing, the Attorney General’s Office informed defense counsel that the Defendant’s alleged perjurious statements pertain to his Aug. 2, 2022 testimony, regarding when he learned about the allegation of assault that reportedly occurred on May 28, 2021.”

According to Leffler, “the Governor’s accusation that LCPS ‘withheld key details and knowingly lied to parents about the assaults,’ directly pertains to [Byard] as his alleged failure to inform the public of the allegation of assault.”

Byard’s lawyer says his indictment “is further imputation of a cover-up and deception of Loudoun County residents by LCPS.”

The defense motion includes a quote from a Jan. 14, 2022 Miyares news release: “Loudoun County Public Schools covered up a sexual assault on school grounds for political gain … Virginians have dealt with the horrific aftermath of these scandals.”

In an Oct. 19, 2021 tweet, days before his election, Youngkin called for an investigation of the school board, “for endangering our students and violating the Virginia Constitution. When I’m governor, we’re going to take immediate action in regard to our kids’ safety. Our kids cannot wait.”

Leffler’s motion asks that Byard’s case be transferred to Circuit Court of Fairfax County since the Youngkin administration has continually painted Loudoun residents as victims.

“At every opportunity, the Governor and the Attorney General have promised the citizens of Loudoun County that they will get justice for the wrongs that Loudoun County families have suffered as result of the alleged cover-up by LCPS,” Leffler wrote.

Byard’s motion for change of venue is expected to discussed in a Feb. 23 hearing.

The Office of Attorney General has yet to file a response to the change of venue motion. WTOP is seeking comment from Youngkin and Miyares.

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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