Warring motions before fired Loudoun Co. superintendent’s trial: Prosecutor says claims of misconduct ‘frivolous’

Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares speaks during an interview at the Office of the Attorney General in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, May 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Ryan M. Kelly)(AP/Ryan M. Kelly)
The lawyer for fired Loudoun County School Superintendent Scott Ziegler claims prosecutors in Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares’ office resorted to “extensive abuse of the special grand jury process,” and will ask a judge next week to dismiss Ziegler’s three misdemeanor indictments.

In a motion to dismiss, filed on Sept. 7, defense attorney Erin Harrigan said prosecutors repeatedly commented on the credibility of witnesses who appeared before the grand jury and supplied answers to witnesses when they did not know the answer.

However, in a response filed Wednesday, Theophani Stamos, special counsel to the attorney general, blasted the defense motion, calling it a “last-ditch claim” that the judge should refuse to even consider — and that the defense attorney should be fined or punished for filing it.

The defense attorney’s motion “is a thinly veiled device by which to generate favorable trial publicity for the Defendant,” Stamos wrote. “Defendant’s motion is frivolous, is not brought in good faith, intentionally misleads the Court, and merits sanctions.”

A hearing is set for Sept. 21 in Loudoun County Circuit Court.

Defense motion

The defense attorney’s 18-page motion cites several exchanges, including questions to witnesses laden with opinions about Loudoun County Public Schools expressed by prosecutors Stamos and Carlton Davis.

“The system uses whatever rules and rationale it deems necessary to protect its own interests, not the interests of the students, not student privacy, not the interests of the teachers, not the interests of the parents, not the interests of the community … but really just the interests of Dr. Ziegler and the administration. You know, I just think that’s wrong on so many levels,” one of the prosecutors is quoted saying, before adding, “I realize I’m testifying here.”

According to Harrigan, “Prosecutors exerted undue influence on the grand jurors view of the evidence, and tainted the indictments they returned with unconstitutional violations of the defendant’s right to due process.”

By law, prosecutors’ interaction with grand jurors and special grand jurors are limited to the investigation phase, and prosecutors are not allowed to be involved when jurors are considering indictments.

According to Ziegler’s attorney, “Misconduct by the prosecution was pervasive and extended throughout the proceedings, improperly influencing all of the conclusions reached by the grand jurors, including the indictments in this case.”

Prosecutors’ response

Stamos, the special prosecutor, said the defense motion relies on “selectively excised tiny portions from hundreds of pages” of testimony.

Further, she said “Counsel misunderstands or mischaracterizes how a special grand jury works and how Special Counsel have wide latitude to present evidence and question witnesses using open-ended or leading questions.”

She said prosecutors never improperly influenced the grand jurors’ deliberations and that during the earlier investigative phase “Nowhere does the law prohibit Special Counsel from offering opinions to witnesses, presenting evidence, and using the techniques of cross examination counsel complains about,” the prosecutors filing stated.

In addition, the prosecutor with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office slammed the defense attorney for publishing in the filing the unredacted name of the juvenile who was found responsible for sexually assaulting two high school students, which prosecutors said violates juvenile confidentiality laws.

The prosecutor said the defense attorney should face monetary or disciplinary sanctions for doing so.

Trial this month

Ziegler is set to go on trial later this month.

The former superintendent was fired on Dec. 7, 2022, one day after the release of a special grand jury report that criticized the school system’s response to two in-school sexual assaults by the same student in 2021. The indictments against Ziegler were announced six days later.

The attorney general 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 winning gubernatorial bid.

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 an employee who testified before the grand jury.

Longtime school system spokesman Wayde Byard, who was indicted on a felony perjury charge related to testimony he gave to the special grand jury, was acquitted in June.

WTOP’s Jack Moore and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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