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Judge who halted Youngkin order on masks disclosed her spouse teaches in Arlington

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) at a news conference in Richmond. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)
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The Arlington judge who dealt a blow Friday to Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order making masks optional in schools is married to an Arlington teacher, but attorneys for Youngkin (R) and the school boards did not believe she should have recused herself.

Arlington Circuit Court Judge Louise DiMatteo issued a temporary restraining order Friday barring enforcement of Youngkin’s order, a victory for the seven school boards — including the Arlington School Board — that filed a lawsuit claiming Youngkin’s order violated state law and that have sought to keep mask mandates in place.

Conservative news outlets and critics on social media then pointed out that DiMatteo is married to a teacher at an Arlington public school, Wakefield High School. “CONFLICT OF INTEREST?” Fairfax Republicans tweeted out Saturday.

Judge halts order making masks optional in Virginia schools

But attorneys for both the school boards and for Youngkin said DiMatteo voluntarily disclosed her spouse’s employment. Neither party objected or viewed her spouse’s job at an Arlington school as a conflict of interest, agreeing that DiMatteo should continue on the case.

“Judge DiMatteo disclosed to the parties on Monday Jan. 31 that her husband worked as a high school teacher in Arlington County Public Schools,” said Victoria LaCivita, a spokeswoman for Virginia Attorney General Jason S. Miyares (R), in a statement to The Washington Post. “Our office, on behalf of the governor, did not object to the judge continuing to preside over the case.”

John Cafferky, attorney for the school boards, said DiMatteo held a conference call with the attorneys for both parties before a crucial hearing on the case “specifically to apprise them of the fact that her spouse was a teacher in Arlington, even though she was not legally obligated to inform them of that.”

“I’m surprised to hear this now being raised, both because the judge did disclose to the parties that her spouse worked at an Arlington school and neither party objected or had an issue with her remaining on the case as judge, and because it’s not a conflict,” Cafferky wrote in an email to The Post.

John Szabo, who teaches ethics and professional responsibility at George Washington University Law School, said the full disclosure from DiMatteo is what matters in evaluating the case from an ethics standpoint.

He said DiMatteo could have still made the decision to disqualify herself, but “if she believed she didn’t have a conflict in this situation and both the defendant and the plaintiff also agreed, then from my standpoint as an ethics professor, I wouldn’t consider there to be any violation there.”

DiMatteo could not immediately be reached for comment Sunday.

The Arlington School Board joined boards in Alexandria, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Hampton, Prince William and Richmond in suing Youngkin over his mask-optional order last month, setting up a crucial clash over an issue that has become a political lightning rod for Youngkin. As of Feb. 2, an analysis by The Post found that 70 school districts — more than 50 percent of all Virginia school districts — were flouting Youngkin’s order and continuing to mandate masking in schools.

More than half of Virginia school districts defy Youngkin order

In her 10-page ruling temporarily halting Youngkin’s order, DiMatteo concluded that the order conflicted with a state law passed last summer requiring school boards to follow federal health guidance, and that the Virginia Constitution gives local school boards the authority to make decisions about students’ health and safety, including about masking.

Youngkin had argued that he was using his emergency powers as governor, and that his predecessor, Gov. Ralph Northam (D), did the same thing to issue mandates during the pandemic.

“The single issue before the Court is whether the Governor, via his emergency powers, can override the decision of local school boards delegated to them,” DiMatteo wrote in the ruling granting a temporary restraining order. “On this pivotal point, the Court concludes that the Governor cannot.”

Youngkin has vowed to appeal the temporary restraining order.