Attorney General Miyares wants closed hearing in Loudoun County school assault case

Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares is asking that a hearing in a high-profile court case related to Loudoun County Public Schools’ handling of two sexual assault cases remain closed to the public. He had previously called for transparency in the case.

The hearing comes as part of a lawsuit filed by the Loudoun school board to stop the work of a special grand jury convened into Miyares’ investigation into the Northern Virginia school district’s handling of two sexual assaults by a high school student. This case generated significant controversy and criticism for the school district, which transferred the student to a second campus after his first sexual assault, where he committed a second.

The hearing, which is supposed to be public, is scheduled for next week. Its purpose is unknown: Lawyers are to discuss “sealed files” previously kept from the public by the joint agreement of both parties to the lawsuit.

In a Tuesday court filing, Assistant Attorney General Thomas J. Sanford asked that that hearing be closed because “public access … would play a negative role.” Privacy, he wrote, would “protect the proper functioning and privacy of the special grand jury.”

Grand jury proceedings are normally held behind closed doors.

The court has not yet ruled on his application, and the Loudoun school system has not filed a response. But Sanford wrote in his filing that his understanding “came from consultation with an attorney [is] that the school board will now oppose this request.”

Asked for comment Friday, Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita said, “The assignment speaks for itself.” Loudoun Schools spokesman Wayde Byard declined to answer questions Friday, writing in an email, that “Loudoun County public schools do not comment on pending litigation.”

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During Glenn Youngkin’s campaign for governor, he often criticized Loudoun and promised retribution once he was in office. Shortly after Youngkin and Miyares took power in early 2022, Miyares — under instructions from one of Youngkin’s first executive orders — launched an investigation into Loudoun’s handling of the sexual assaults.

At the time, both officials referred to the need to make information about the cases public. Youngkin wrote in his order that the Loudoun school board “withheld important details and knowingly lied to parents” regarding the sexual assault cases. Miyares said in a statement Loudoun “covered up a sexual assault on school premises” and called for “transparency and accountability” going forward.

The Loudoun school system announced this spring that Miyares had convened a grand jury into its investigation into the attacks. Grand juries are groups of citizens who have the authority to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing and, if necessary, to bring criminal charges. In the district’s April 28 statement, Byard wrote that “LCPS intends to cooperate with the lawful requests of the special grand jury while protecting the privacy rights of our students.”

In late May, however, the Loudoun school board sued to halt the grand jury’s work, arguing that their formation was unlawful under a section of Virginia statute that limits the attorney general’s ability to initiate criminal proceedings in most scenarios unless this is specifically required by the court governor. In a court filing, a Loudoun attorney wrote that the grand jury’s actions caused pain and expense to the district and the families subpoenaed.

“These families will be forced to take legal action at personal expense” to keep their children’s school records secret, attorney Steven Webster wrote. “In fact, several families have been forced to hire an attorney to file waiver requests to protect their students’ privacy rights.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, said the school board’s lawsuit raises legitimate questions about the scope of Miyares’ powers under Virginia law. And he sees convincing arguments on both sides as to whether the hearing should be public next week.

“I know Assistant AG has argued that a grand jury is private, but there’s a really strong public interest,” Tobias said. On the other hand, “the case involves alleged sexual conduct by juveniles in which you could imagine a situation where you might want to close it or there could be a public interest in closing it to protect the juveniles.”

The next hearing in Loudoun’s lawsuit is scheduled for July 11. For the time being, it remains unclear whether it will take place in public or in a private session.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/07/08/loudoun-schools-closed-hearing-miyares/ Attorney General Miyares wants closed hearing in Loudoun County school assault case

Dustin Huang

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