ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) - An embattled Isle of Wight school board member is off the hook, at least for now.
Herb De Groft was caught sending emails many consider racist, and Wednesday Suffolk Commonwealth's Attorney Phil Ferguson announced the case for his recall was nonsuited. Basically, the case has been put on the backburner because the petition to recall De Groft did not have the required number of signatures.
The State Code requires the petition to have signatures equaling 10 percent of the total votes cast in De Groft's last election, which would be 206 votes. The petition drive only got 201 signatures -- there were many duplicate signatures and some signatures of people who are not registered voters.
That is good news for Herb De Groft.
"This is absolutely not a distraction for me," he told WAVY.com Wednesday outside the courthouse.
De Groft will not be removed from office for sending emails containing pictures and statements mocking First Lady Obama's heritage.
"I was a private citizen and did not do something that violates my oath of office as a School Board Member," said De Groft.
When asked whether the emails were racist De Groft interrupted WAVY.com's question: "Inappropriate. I take issue with the word racist, sexist etc. Inappropriate, maybe, because it is always in the eye of the beholder," he said.
Dottie Harris organized the petition drive to recall De Groft, and in her eyes, he went too far.
"I think we've already won because he is not running again," Harris said. "We already have the signatures, and at some point we will resubmit them. We want elected officials to know you represent the people, and can't go into office and do what you want to do with no regard for the people you are representing."
"[The case] is not proceeding at this time, however, it does not prohibit us from proceeding in the future," Ferguson said. The court allows a "non-suit" of a case to be resubmitted within six months.
Here's Ferguson's dilemma: are these emails enough evidence to remove Bailey or De Groft from office?
"That is the issue we are looking at right now, and I am not going to pre-judge anything until we are comfortable with any decision we are going to make," Ferguson said.
For De Groft to be removed from office, State Code requires the emails to be a "misuse of office" that creates an "adverse effect upon the conduct of the office."
If the case against De Groft does not meet that requirement, it could eventually be dropped. The same is true for the case against IOW County Supervisor Byron Bailey, who forwarded De Groft's emails with captions of his own. He is scheduled to appear in court for his removal hearing August 12.
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