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Petition to force Wagstaff off School Board dismissed / November 27, 2013

Mecklenburg County Circuit Judge Leslie Osborn on Thursday threw out a voter petition to remove Election District 8 trustee Joan Wagstaff from the Mecklenburg County School Board.

In dismissing the matter without prejudice, the judge cited three reasons:

the individuals who signed the petition did not do so under penalty of perjury, as required by the relevant Virginia code section;

the petition failed to meet the threshold of containing 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office in the last election;

the cited justification for Wagstaff’s removal — “due diligence and misrepresentation of student activity funds” — is insufficient to merit a review by the court.

Judge Osborn left open the door for Alyson Elliott and Ellen Royster, the two petitioners, to amend the petition and refile it.

Royster, who circulated the petition, was sworn under penalty of perjury, but each person who signed the petition was not sworn.

According to Jason Corwin, Voter Registrar for Mecklenburg County, Elliott and Royster needed 59 signatures from voters residing in ED-8 to meet the threshold for the required number of signatures. “That number is 10 percent of the voters from District 8 who voted in the last election at which Wagstaff was a candidate,” noted Corwin. The petition was submitted with only 56 signatures.

Virginia code section 24.2-233 sets out specific reasons for the removal of an elected official by a Circuit judge’s order. They are “neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties when that neglect of duty, misuse of office, or incompetence in the performance of duties has a material adverse effect upon the conduct of the office.”

In dismissing the request, Osborn did not require action by the School Board’s lawyer, who was authorized last week by trustees to defend Wagstaff and any other member of the School Board who may face a similar ouster attempt.

Virginia has no provision in the law for recall elections, but voter petitions requesting the removal of officials by a Circuit judge are permissible.

The state code section on removing elected officials was written in 1975 and has been amended several times since then, most recently in 2002. Still, much confusion remains with the interpretation of the provisions, and so far, none of the citizen initiatives mounted around Virginia has been successful.

A request was sent to Joan Wagstaff seeking comment on the matter, but she had not responded by press time.

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