Loudoun County Superintendent Found Guilty
On Friday, a jury of six women and one man found former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler guilty of using his position to retaliate against a teacher who had cooperated with a grand jury investigating the district's handling of a sexual assault case.
After four days of trial and a day of deliberations, Ziegler was convicted of wrongfully firing the teacher for disclosing to Virginia investigators about the mishandling of a sexual assault in her classroom. He was found guilty of using his official position to retaliate against someone for exercising their rights and was acquitted of punishing someone for testifying to a jury.
The jury's decision came after prosecutors appointed by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares argued that Ziegler had fired the teacher in question, Erin Brooks, specifically for cooperating with the special grand jury investigating the school district's cover-up of a "genderfluid" rape.
The prosecutors presented a timeline of events, showing how Brooks had been targeted for retaliation after she spoke to Virginia investigators and later testified before the grand jury. They argued that out of 15,000 teachers in the district, Brooks was singled out for firing at a school board meeting in June of 2022.
Brooks, who was present for the verdict, clasped her hands in front of her mouth in emotion. Ziegler, who was wearing earrings and nail polish, did not testify at the trial.
Throughout the trial, Ziegler's defense attorney, Erin Harrigan, attempted to argue that Ziegler had fired Brooks for invading the privacy of a student who had assaulted her. However, prosecutors pointed out that there was no evidence to support this claim and that none of the witnesses could point to a policy that Brooks had violated.
The prosecution also presented evidence of a damning timeline of retaliatory actions taken against Brooks, starting with her being asked to produce a subpoena when requesting a day off to testify before the grand jury. The defense's argument that Brooks was fired for sharing private information was also disproven when it was revealed that this information was never shared with anyone.
Furthermore, the prosecution showed that Brooks had been given a glowing evaluation just a few months prior, and that the negative evaluation that led to her firing seemed to be fabricated and retroactively justified.
In their closing arguments, prosecutors emphasized that Ziegler's actions were a clear attempt to silence and retaliate against anyone who spoke out about the mishandling of sexual assault in the district. The defense focused on the technical aspects of the law, arguing that Ziegler could not be found guilty because he did not punish Brooks for being absent.
Following the verdict, Judge Douglas Fleming Jr. announced that Ziegler could face up to 12 months in jail, a $2,500 fine, or both. Sentencing is scheduled for January 4, 2024.
Ziegler will also face a separate trial for a misdemeanor charge of making a false statement at a school board meeting, in which he claimed that there had been no sexual assaults in LCPS restrooms, despite being aware of an incident that had occurred weeks prior.
Ziegler's attorney has stated their intention to file a motion to set aside the jury's verdict. However, for now, the former superintendent's conviction serves as a small victory for the victims of the mishandled sexual assault case and a reminder that those in positions of power cannot use their authority to silence those who speak out against wrongdoing.