Thursday, July 18, 2013
Supreme Court Leaves Standing Order Reinstating San Diego Teacher Accused of Molestation
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The California Supreme Court yesterday denied review of a Fourth District Court of Appeal ruling that overturned the firing of a San Diego elementary school teacher once convicted of molesting pupils.
The justices, at their weekly conference in San Francisco, voted 6-1 not to grant review in San Diego Unified School District v. Commission on Professional Conduct (Jesperson) (2013) 214 Cal. App. 4th 1120. Only Justice Carol Corrigan voted to hear the San Diego Unified School District’s challenge to the ruling that it lacked a factual basis to fire Thad Jesperson.
Jesperson is a former second- and third-grade teacher at Toler Elementary School in the Clairemont neighborhood. He served more than three years in prison before his convictions were thrown out by an earlier appellate ruling.
In the administrative proceedings that followed the dismissal of the criminal case—after three trials—a commission on professional competence found that Jesperson did not engage in immoral conduct and that he is fit to teach. Under state law, a tenured teacher may appeal district discipline to such a commission, composed of an administrative law judge and two education professionals.
A San Diego Superior Court judge overruled the commission, saying the witnesses against Jesperson were credible. But Justice Terry O’Rourke, writing for Div. One of the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge failed to give the required deference to the commission’s finding.
Jesperson, who taught pupils at and was by several accounts a popular educator, has fought for more than a decade to clear himself of allegations he molested pupils during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 school years. The allegations initially involved eight students, but charges relating to four of them were dropped before trial.
Prosecutors dropped the case after the first two trials resulted in mixed verdicts, including hung juries on several counts, and all of the convictions—on eight counts, resulting in a “one-strike” sentence of 15 years to life, were thrown out by the Court of Appeal in 2007, after the third trial.
The Court of Appeal found in a 2-1 decision that the verdict was tainted by jury misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. Prosecutors said they did not want to subject the child witnesses to a fourth trial.
The competence commission, following a hearing at which one of the pupils and her mother testified, and criminal trial testimony by those witnesses was read into the record, said the evidence only established that Jesperson had been “physically affectionate” with pupils, not that he had molested anyone or was otherwise unfit to teach.
Jesperson’s lawyers decried the lack of physical evidence in the case and said the children initially denied the teacher did anything wrong but changed their stories under pressure from parents, police and social workers.
But San Diego Superior Court Judge William Nevitt, citing his three years of experience hearing hundreds of children testify in juvenile court, said he believed the testimony about inappropriate conduct.
O’Rourke, however, writing for the Court of Appeal said Nevitt failed to give the required “great weight” to the commission’s findings regarding the implausibility of much of the child’s testimony, such as statements that the “bad” touching occurred “everyday” and that it occurred in class when all of the students were present. Nevitt also failed to credit, as the commission had, the testimony of a special education assistant, who said Jesperson often patted students on the back, or hugged them, as a form of encouragement, that he was a good teacher, and that she never saw any improper conduct, O’Rourke said.
The justice said it was “highly improbable” that the teacher could have molested a child on multiple occasions over several weeks without the assistant or another adult noticing that something was amiss.
Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company