Fight for Schools PAC had three minor wins in court this week in the effort to recall Loudoun County School Board Member Beth Barts. In a Tuesday hearing, the circuit court judge denied Barts’ motion to dismiss the recall petition, agreed to appoint a special prosecutor, and granted the PAC’s motion to intervene.
“Today was a very good day in court for Fight For Schools and a bad day for Beth Barts and her efforts to silence and criminalize parents in Loudoun County. Beth Barts tried to get all of the signatures that we have collected thrown out, the judge ruled against her and in our favor. The case will proceed,” Fight for Schools said on Facebook.
Those three wins are especially important because of Virginia recall law, which makes recalls difficult. A recall petition must have signatures from voters of the official’s district; the total number required is ten percent of the number of votes that originally elected that official. Then, the petition is submitted to a judge. The Commonwealth’s attorney, not the petitioners, carries 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. Since the petitioners aren’t part of the case, they don’t have any chance to appeal.
Barts’ lawyer Charles King filed a motion to dismiss the petition challenging the way it was signed, but the judge denied the motion, getting the recall effort past the first hurdle.
The judge also chose to remove Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj from prosecuting the recall. Biberaj is also facing a recall effort and has been accused of having ties to the school board. Instead, Stafford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen is expected to be appointed as special prosecutor. Olsen is a Republican, but King said neither side was involved in the choice.
That may help the recall effort get past the second hurdle. In a recall effort in Fairfax, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano recused himself but recommended Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James Hingely, who promptly asked the court to dismiss the recall for lack of evidence.
“[Olsen’s] a career prosecutor. So I expect him to be a straight-shooter,” King said. “I still predict the case will be dismissed. My best prediction is the prosecutor will drop it.”
If Olsen does not dismiss the recall, Fight for Schools PAC has a seat at the table through the motion to intervene, even though petitioners aren’t normally part of the case. It’s not clear if that means they will be allowed to call witnesses or appeal decisions they don’t like, but is likely to be helpful.
“I suspect I will file a motion,” King said. “I’m going to file a motion to clarify what their authority is to intervene in the case.”
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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.