A Circuit Court judge heard arguments for two motions in the cases to remove Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) and Atoosa Reaser (Algonkian) from the School Board during a full day in court Wednesday.
The hearing for the case against Sheridan was scheduled for 10 a.m. and the case against Reaser for 1p.m., but the parties agreed to use the arguments for both cases, because the motions are virtually identical. Judge Jeanette A. Irby presided over the hearing.
One of the motions is to allow the group Fight for Schools, which organized the signing of the removal petitions, to intervene in the case on behalf of the petitioners. The other motion is to disqualify Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj from prosecuting the cases.
Fight for Schools, represented by David Warrington, alleges that School Board members violated open-meeting laws and their oaths of office by participating in the private Facebook group, Anti-Racist Parents of Loudoun County. Members of that group were accused of planning to target parents who criticized the School Board’s equity policies. It also alleges that School Board members were at fault for knowing about a sexual assault in a high school in May, before the assailant was transferred to another school where the teen assaulted a second student. If it is allowed to intervene in the case, Fight for Schools may present evidence, make arguments, and call witnesses to the stand.
The arguments centered around the Facebook group, and Sheridan’s involvement in it. Biberaj sought to establish that just because Sheridan was in the group, does not mean she participated in or had seen the list of parents some members allegedly sought to target.
Dawn E. Boyce, the attorney representing Sheridan and Reaser, argued that the recall process in Virginia is intended to remove an official for breaches of office, not for policy differences from constituents.
Of the motion to intervene, Boyce said Fight for Schools’ participation was unnecessary, as the group does not have a right to participate despite having an interest in the School Board. She sought to establish that the leadership of Fight for Schools does not represent the interests of the petition signatories, known as the Citizens of Sterling in the Sheridan case, and cited the state Supreme Court case Hudson vs. Jared, where the high court ruled that to intervene, a party must prove it has a right to do so.
Fight for Schools Executive Director Ian Prior was called to the stand by Warrington, where he was questioned for roughly two hours by both his own attorney, Biberaj, and Boyce.
Warrington called Fight for Schools board member Jessica Mendez as a witness, who gave an emotional testimony of how she learned about the Facebook group. She said that two pieces of hate mail, calling her a racist, were sent to the law firm where she works. One of them, received Sept. 21, 2021, said it was sent by the Anti-Racists of Loudoun County, signed “we’re watching you.”
Mendez said once she saw screenshots from the Facebook group, she felt it was her duty to contact the other people listed to let them know that they were being targeted. She also said that since the news of the Facebook group emerged, one neighbor has been harassing her.
During the hearing, it came to light that Mendez was the notary for one volunteer’s, Jeremy Wright, signing of the petition. Wright, who collected signatures on behalf of Fight for Schools, does not actually live in Loudoun County, but instead in Berryville. While he was on the stand, Prior testified that Wright said he accidentally wrote down the wrong address, using his old Loudoun address. Mendez said that since she knew Wright well, she did not need to see proof of his address when serving as his notary. She said he began to show her his voter registration card, but she told him that she didn’t need to see it.
Warrington also called Fight for Schools supporter Elicia Brand to the stand. Brand was also named on the list in the Facebook group. When asked if she felt intimidated by being named on the list, she said, “I did, very much so.”
Brand said she got a ring doorbell for her home and filed a report with the Sheriff’s Office following the list coming to light. Brand also was questioned about her role as a public relations advisor to the family of one of the sexual assault victims.
One of the Sheriff’s Office detectives who investigated the Facebook group also took the witness stand. The detective testified that there was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the group, and ultimately criminal charges weren’t pursued.
Irby said she would issue an oral ruling on the motions later in the month. Following that ruling, she will take up motions on behalf of Sheridan and Reaser to quash the petitions.
Although much of today’s hearing operated on the agreement that the Sherdian and Reaser cases would be linked, at 5:45 p.m. Irby was told Biberaj planned to make a different argument on the motions in the Reaser case. However, when Irby asked the commonwealth’s attorney to make her presentation, Biberji said she was not prepared to do so.
Biberji suggested she be permitted to make her arguments in writing. Irby set a Jan. 14 deadline for that filing and a Jan. 20 deadline for other parties to submit their responses.