Soros-Backed Attorney Kills Effort To Recall School Board Member Who Fought Reopening

James Hingeley was appointed to defend the petition he got dismissed

Albemarle County, Va., commonwealth's attorney James Hingeley (D.) / University of Virginia School of Law
August 27, 2021

A Virginia commonwealth's attorney backed by left-wing billionaire George Soros tanked an effort to recall a Democratic school board member who prevented students from returning to classrooms.

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition, a parents' group, in July reached the signature threshold to recall Elaine Tholen, a school board member who refused to reopen schools during the coronavirus pandemic. James Hingeley, the court-appointed attorney assigned to represent them in the case, dismissed Open Fairfax County Public Schools' petition on Friday. Hingeley, a Democrat who campaigned alongside Tholen in 2019, received $5,000 that year from the Soros-funded Justice and Safety PAC.

Soros and other left-wing donors backed Hingeley and other radical prosecutor candidates in an effort to remake Virginia's criminal justice system, the Washington Free Beacon reported in 2019. Hingeley, other Democratic candidates, and Tholen attended that year's Virginia Women's Summit.

Soros funneled $1 million to defund-the-police efforts as the country faced a violent crime spike this summer.

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition originally sought to retain Charles R. Spies as its lawyer. But Virginia law required the group to plead their case with a Commonwealth's attorney, Virginia's equivalent of a district attorney. Fairfax County attorney Steve Descano—who received $600,000 from Soros and thousands of dollars from Tholen—is facing his own recall and recused himself from the case. Descano tapped Hingeley to take his place.

Fairfax County Circuit Court judge Richard Gardiner had already denied Tholen's motion to quash the case against her, ruling that a trial would determine the veracity of the coalition's allegations. The parent group said Tholen neglected her duties as an elected official by refusing to reopen schools.

Rather than argue the coalition's case, Hingeley sought to have it dismissed. The attorney said he had completed his own investigation into the parents' petition and called their accusations "improper." Gardiner said during an Aug. 20 hearing that his hands were tied in the matter and that he had to approve Hingeley's request.

"As the Commonwealth attorney, if he makes a motion to dismiss a case, in this Court's view, the Court has no discretion at that point," Gardiner said. "It's totally up to the Commonwealth whether to move forward."

Dee O'Neal, an Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition leader who was in the meeting with Gardiner and Hingeley when the attorney declined to take up the case, told the Free Beacon that Hingeley's decision was obvious from the start.

"It was clear he wasn't going to represent us. He told us he didn't represent us, but the people of the county," O'Neal said. "The first thought that came to my head was, if this guy is going to be defending Elaine Tholen and the county, who's defending the petition? It felt like the fix was in."

The Open Fairfax County Public Schools Coalition is a nonpartisan group of parents that opposes the school district's closure during the coronavirus pandemic. The group is working to recall several Fairfax County Public School board members who voted against reopening schools.

O'Neal criticized the treatment of the coalition's petition, alleging that the state government was biased in the matter.

"It was definitely political. I mean, I don't care what party you vote for. It felt planned," O'Neal said. "We weren't given a fair shake because of the person who was there to defend us."

The coalition is also working to recall school board members Laura Jane Cohen and Abrar Omeish. Omeish caught flack in May when she referred to Israel as an apartheid state.

Groups of parents across the country are toppling board members who kept schools shuttered during the coronavirus pandemic. A group of Wisconsin parents on Monday submitted its petition to recall four school board members who deferred authority in deciding coronavirus mitigation strategies to the superintendent.