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Hearing on whether to remove embattled Prince George’s County school board chair begins

Prince George’s Board of Education Chair Juanita Miller recorded a message for the public earlier this year, rejecting a request from County Executive Angela Alsobrooks that she step down. Screenshot.

A virtual hearing for a Maryland judge to decide on whether to remove Prince George’s County Board of Education Chair Juanita Miller from her position began Monday and will last all week.

The hearing that’s presided over by Richard O’Connor, an administrative law judge with the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, is scheduled to resume Dec. 19-21.

Miller, appointed as chair in January 2021 by County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (D), faces allegations of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty and incompetence, brought against her by six former and current school board members.

Between Feb. 24, 2021, to April 28, 2021, the six board members — Raaheela Ahmed, Edward Burroughs III, Kenneth Harris, David Murray, Shayla Adams-Stafford and Joshua Thomas — claim Miller didn’t sign a contract with a law firm after the board approved it. In addition, Miller allegedly allowed two representatives from different law firms to attend “confidential executive board sessions.”

The members also claim Miller withheld ethics reports from the board.

Burroughs no longer serves on the board and won a special election to become a member of the county council this year. Ahmed ran an unsuccessful campaign for state Senate in the July primary election.

Miller’s attorney Bruce Marcus gave a slightly more than 40-minute opening statement Monday that included a history of his client’s education and professional background.

“The accusations that have been made about Dr. Miller are obviously, entirely and totally inconsistent with over 50 years of varying public service…to the citizens not only of Maryland [but particularly] Prince George’s County,” he said. “There is some suggestion that it is skullduggery or other kinds of misconduct in this case that somehow or other that have been to bear by Dr. Miller, which are wholly inconsistent with a lifetime of varying public service.”

Meanwhile, Fox 5 reported earlier this month that $32,000 in legal fees for Miller are being paid by the school system without any formal vote taking place.

The board met behind closed doors Nov. 10 to discuss the matter and a formal vote failed. According to Fox 5, former board vice chair Sonya Williams signed the paperwork to authorize the payment. Williams served her last meeting on that day because she didn’t seek re-election.

During Monday’s hearing, Brandon Cooper, the attorney representing the six current and former school board members, asked Ahmed several questions about board policy.

The judge intervened on a few occasions, including when Miller’s other attorney, Sydney Patterson, objected to a question Cooper raised about a May 26, 2021, contract that was signed by Keith Stewart as a representative of the board of education, and Kevin Karpinski, managing partner of the law firm Karpinski, Cornbrooks & Karp of Baltimore. Miller has been accused of retaining Karpinski without board approval.

“To your knowledge, who directed Mr. Stewart to execute this contract…when he signed as representative of the board of education?” Cooper asked Ahmed.

“Objection,” Patterson said.

“What is the objection? O’Connor asked.

“Personal knowledge,” Patterson said.

“And I’m going to ask if [Ahmed] has personal knowledge,” Cooper said.

“That would be good,” O’Connor said.

Ahmed said she was present during a meeting last year when Stewart “clearly indicated” he worked with Williams. In addition, Ahmed said Miller posted a note in the online software system called “BoardDocs” that she had authority as the board chair to enter into a contract for legal services.

“To me, that was a direct response from Mr. Stewart and this was the direct posting of Dr. Miller,” Ahmed said.

The hearing ended around 4:35 p.m. and will resume Tuesday.