Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby declined Wednesday to recuse herself from the recall case of School Board Member Beth Barts. Barts’ attorney Charles King had motioned for local judges to recuse themselves, arguing that an outside judge is necessary to consider testimony from local officials. On Monday, Judge Stephen Sincavage said he would recuse himself, saying he has children in the school district, according to Loudoun Now.
“I am not recusing myself from this matter,” Irby said, according to The Loudoun Times-Mirror.
According to Loudon Now, King said, “I think it is generally a better practice, when the witnesses are going to involve elected local officials or candidates for office, involving election issues, that the matter be considered by a court outside of the community. That way, the public will not have reason to have a question about the verdict.”
The next hearing is set for October 5; the court is expected to hear motions from both parties. Fight For Schools PAC, which led the effort to collect signatures for the recall petition, wants Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj to recuse herself from the case.
Under Virginia recall law, the Commonwealth’s attorney, not the petitioners, carry the case forward. In Virginia, the legal reasons for recalls are not focused on policy, but on misconduct and crime. That creates several points where recall petitions usually fail: something can be technically wrong with the petition or its wording, the Commonwealth’s attorney could decide not to prosecute it, or the judge could decide not to remove the official after trial. In neighboring Fairfax County, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano recused himself from a school board recall, and the Albemarle Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingeley was appointed; he asked the court to dismiss the recall.
Biberaj is also the target of a recall effort; Stand Up Virginia is collecting signatures for the recall petition.
On Tuesday, Fight for Schools PAC founder Ian Prior told The Star “Moreover, [Sincavage’s decision] only reinforces that the Commonwealth Attorney, who was part of the private Facebook group that spurred this removal action, must also be recused.”
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Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Beth Barts” by Loudoun County Public Schools. Background “Loudoun County High School” by A.J. Jelonek. CC BY 3.0.