New recall petition again seeks to oust Vines from Isle of Wight School Board
Published 12:46 pm Wednesday, April 27, 2022
Windsor resident Lewis Edmonds has filed a second petition in Isle of Wight County Circuit Court, again seeking to recall School Board member Michael Vines.
Circuit Court Judge Carl Eason had dismissed Edmonds’ first petition in March after finding that not one of the more than 200 county residents who signed it had attested to having done so under penalty of perjury as required under state law. Edmonds’ latest petition, which bears 221 signatures of registered voters in Vines’ district, according to Isle of Wight County’s Voter Registrar’s Office, now includes the required perjury warning.
According to court records, Edmonds filed the second petition on April 15. The April petition, like the March one, accuses Vines of having made “wildly inappropriate, defamatory and discriminatory” remarks at recent meetings, and of “malfeasance” for his alleged “knowing failure to comply with the requirements” for filling out the statement of economic interests school board members must file.
According to the petitions, Vines “left most of the document blank” and “failed to sign it.” He also rebuked a group of anti-mask-mandate protesters who heckled board members at the School Board’s Jan. 26 meeting as having been “transplanted” to Isle of Wight, whereas he’d grown up “a product of this county,” the petitioners complain.
Edmonds takes specific issue with Vines’ conduct at a Feb. 8 town hall meeting he hosted with fellow board member John Collick at Windsor Elementary School. Vines had invited one of his relatives — Brandon Randleman — to speak at the meeting, even though Randleman had moved outside of the county, but had Smithfield-area parent Laura Fletcher escorted from the lectern by sheriff’s deputies when she revealed she did not live in his or Collick’s voting districts and refused to yield the floor.
“You are a problem in every School Board meeting,” Vines told Fletcher, who’d previously been escorted by deputies from the Jan. 26 meeting at the direction of board Chairwoman Denise Tynes.
Randleman had used his time at the lectern to speak out against Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s tip line to report schools teaching “divisive” concepts. Fletcher, according to Edmonds’ court filings, had intended to “provide an opposing viewpoint.”
Vines’ seat is already to go before a special election this November. He was appointed last fall as Julia Perkins’ interim replacement after the retired teacher resigned in the middle of her four-year term. As of April 21, Vines had not filed paperwork with the Isle of Wight County Registrar’s Office to get his name on the ballot.
The April petition seeks Vines’ “immediate suspension” and asks the judge to “set a trial for his removal from office.”
At an April 25 hearing where Vines was to “show cause” as to why he should not be removed, instead of dismissing the case, the court this time continued the matter to June 15 for pretrial motions. According to court records, a three-day jury trial is scheduled to begin Aug. 8 at 9:30 a.m.
‘Politics and politics solely’
Vines’ lawyer, Steven M. Oser, in March, had asked Eason to order Isle of Wight County to pay the resulting court costs from Edmonds’ first petition, arguing it amounted to “politics and politics solely,” and the latest example of the months-long backlash school boards in Isle of Wight and other Virginia localities have faced over masks and the perceived influence of Critical Race Theory in K-12 schools.
CRT, as the term is often abbreviated, argues American laws and institutions have perpetuated inequalities among minority groups. Though Isle of Wight school officials have repeatedly stated the graduate-level academic discipline isn’t part of the school’s curriculum, critics say it’s become embedded in the school system’s diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.
Eason, however, declined to order the county or the state to pay Vines’ court costs and attorney fees.
The April petition includes, as an exhibit, an email thread between Windsor-area parent Jason Maresh and Tynes, in which Maresh takes issue with Vines’ “transplant” remarks and argues there are “resources currently available to students K-12 that are both divisive and related to CRT.”
“Your repeated denial only re-affirms my lack of confidence in this board to do what is right,” Maresh writes.
Maresh, in addition to being among the voters to sign Edmond’s April petition, has filed paperwork with the Isle of Wight County Registrar’s Office to appear on the ballot this November as a candidate for Vines’ seat.
A ‘quasi-criminal’ investigation
The court had named Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney Narendra Pleas as a special prosecutor during the first recall after Isle of Wight Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips recused herself and her office, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. Pleas tasked Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lily Wilder with arguing in favor of the recall at the March 29 hearing that resulted in the dismissal of Edmonds’ first petition.
A day after the dismissal, on March 30, the Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office served Isle of Wight County Schools with a search warrant for an unredacted version of Vines’ statement of economic interests.
According to IWCS spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, Wilder contacted the school system around 4:30 p.m. on March 30, requesting the unredacted document, but was told by school officials that state law specifically requires copies of school board members’ statements of economic interests to have each board member’s addresses and signatures redacted.
The search warrant, which is dated March 30 at 4:42 p.m., accuses Vines of “stating that he does not make over $5,000 at his place of employment” by virtue of having left the employment status and salary blank on his statement of economic interests form, but having stated at the Feb. 8 town hall meeting that he was “an IT manager” who makes “over $100,000 a year.” Edmonds had made the same accusation in his March petition.
An accompanying affidavit characterized Vines’ omission as “forging public records,” a Class 4 felony under Virginia law. The affidavit is signed by Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kris Coughlin, who attests to having “personal knowledge of the facts set forth” in it.
When Oser filed a subpoena for the documents Coughlin obtained, Wilder responded on April 22 with a motion to quash Oser’s subpoena on the grounds that “criminal investigative files are privileged” and exempt from mandatory disclosure under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act.
The day of the April 25 “show cause” hearing, Oser filed a memorandum in opposition to Wilder’s motion to quash. In it, he argues the search warrant has turned what would ordinarily be handled as a civil court proceeding into a “quasi-criminal” matter, where “due process requires” the state disclose “all material exculpatory evidence to the accused.”
“If the material seized pursuant to the warrant was the same as the unredacted form, which did not contain a signature, logic would dictate that the Commonwealth would simply provide it to Defendant’s counsel,” Oser writes. “However, the Commonwealth has not, which leads to the conclusion that whatever Statement of Economic Interest was seized, it is different from what is in the Defendant Counsel’s possession.”
The March petition had included a redacted version of Vines’ Dec. 13 statement of economic interests form, which was not included as an exhibit in the April petition. According to Oser’s April 25 filing, there “may be two documents,” as Vines is alleged to have submitted a new statement of economic interests form for 2022 “on or about February 1.”