Karen Nutini via Wikimedia Commons

Today, after a two-day trial, Judge Fleming of the Loudoun County Circuit Court acquitted Jon Tigges of a criminal misdemeanor charge of trespassing when he was arrested at the June 22, 2021 Loudoun School Board meeting for remaining in the meeting room to exercise his First Amendment rights after the former Superintendent, Scott Ziegler, demanded that a packed room of parents leave the building. The Founding Freedoms Law Center (FFLC), the legal arm of The Family Foundation, represented Mr. Tigges, along with Chris Kacheroff of McSweeney, Cynkar & Kachouroff.

Mr. Tigges was one of over 700 citizens who showed up to the June 22 School Board meeting to express their concerns on a variety of issues including transgender policy 8040, COVID mandates, critical race theory, and the recent firing of teacher Tanner Cross. Around 250 people signed up to speak, but the Board ended public comment abruptly after just 50 speakers and exited the room for a temporary recess. During the recess, Mr. Tigges encouraged those who were denied their opportunity to speak to come to the front of the seating area to continue providing their comments for everyone to hear. Soon after and without any prior warnings, then-Superintendent Scott Ziegler announced that the gathering was an “unlawful assembly” and anyone who did not leave the room immediately would be subject to arrest. When Mr. Tigges insisted that he had a right to be in the room and explained that he would not leave, he was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. Mr. Tigges was the second person arrested in the room while the Board had recessed. The other was Scott Smith, whose daughter was sexually assaulted in the school bathroom by a male.

Today, Judge Fleming held that the Commonwealth had not shown that anyone other than the School Board had authority to remove people from the public meeting room. He also found that Mr. Tigges had successfully pled an affirmative defense of acting in good faith in believing he was in the room lawfully. Because of this, the judge did not address the First Amendment Constitutional claims of free speech, protest, and assembly.

According to Josh Hetzler, Legal Counsel for FFLC, “This is an important victory for free speech and the rule of law. The Loudoun County School Board and former Superintendent tried to silence Mr. Tigges and other citizens and to crush all dissent, but it has only backfired on them. Today’s acquittal helps vindicate Jon Tigges and the hundreds of other citizens and parents who want their voice to be heard.”

Jon Tigges said, “Today’s ruling is a win not just for me, but for all the parents and citizens of Loudoun County who have been systematically silenced and shut out of the process by this School division over the last few years. I didn’t serve my country for decades overseas only to come home and have my rights trampled on here. I hope this victory only encourages more parents to speak out and get involved to take back their children’s education and reclaim their basic rights.”

The Founding Freedoms Law Center also won a recent victory over the Loudoun County School Board for violating Virginia’s open meetings law for its conduct at the June 22, 2021 meeting.