A Loudoun Circuit Court judge on Tuesday denied a motion to dismiss the voter petition to remove School Board member Beth Barts (Leesburg), and disqualified Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj from prosecuting the case.
Barts is facing a removal effort spearheaded by the group Fight for Schools. The group alleges that Barts’ involvement in a private Facebook group violated open meeting laws and the School Board’s Code of Conduct, among other charges.
During a four-hour hearing Oct. 5, Judge Jeanette Irby denied a motion to dismiss the pleadings on a technicality. Charlie King, the attorney for Barts, argued that the verbiage in the petitions did not make it apparent enough to signees that they were agreeing to grievances against Barts, under penalty of perjury. Irby said it was clear to petitioners that by signing, they were affirming the allegations.
She also denied a separate motion to dismiss the pleadings based on a claim that Fight for Schools lacked standing to intervene in the case. King argued that the only named parties in the case are the commonwealth and the defendant, and intervention they the activist group was not appropriate.
In ruling that Biberaj should be removed from the case, Irby said that her decision was based on a perception issue because the public might not trust Biberaj’s impartiality.
“I have the utmost respect for Ms. Biberaj … however if she continued on this case there would never be acceptance on this case,” Irby said.
The attorney for Citizens of Leesburg, the plaintiff in the case, David Warrington presented a tweet by Biberaj, in which she shared a letter to the editor published in Loudoun Now that supported the school district’s equity work. Warrington argued that the tweet exhibited Biberaj’s personal opinions. Fight for Schools has charged that the School Board has pushed a liberal agenda on students, framing curriculum through a lens of racial inequity.
Biberaj is also the subject of a removal effort by the group Virginians for Safe Communities, of which Fight for School Executive Director Ian Prior is a board member.
Biberaj was also listed as a member of the same closed Facebook group as Barts, Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun, where members were accused of seeking to dox opponents of the school division’s racial equity work.
Irby said that she would need about a week to find a special prosecutor to take on the case before any other court dates are scheduled.
About 20 members of Fight for Schools were present in the courtroom, and they erupted in applause and hugs after Irby grantied the motion to dismiss Biberaj and adjourned the hearing.
“I feel like the judge looked at the evidence and made a decision that was right,” Loudoun parent and Fight for Schools supporter Erin Dunbar said after the hearing. “I think she’s unbiased. She’s looking at the evidence in front of her and I think she’s actually going to give us a fair trial.”
A similar recall effort in neighboring Fairfax County earlier this year was dismissed in court because a special prosecutor said that the case did not have a basis to move forward.
Prior has tweeted concerns about Biberaj’s conflict of interest in the past.
“The parents want a seat at the table. We’ve been saying we want a fair process and accountability, and I think today they got that,” Prior said.
“They said we were just a group of angry parents that would never make a difference. This proves that parents just being involved—especially in anything involving children at any level—we can make a difference, we should make a difference,” Fight for Schools supporter Carrie Michon said.
Barts was not present in court because she was preparing to participate in the School Board public hearing to appoint a new representative to the vacant Broad Run seat.
This article was updated Oct. 5 at 9:11 p.m. A previous version incorrectly reported that Ian Prior serves on the board of Stand Up Virginia. The correct group is Virginians for Safe Communities.