Both Sides Claim Upper Hand
Both sides in the case involving the principal of the Pugliese West Elementary School believe they would have won if the case had not been settled before jury selection began Wednesday.
Lynnett Gorman was charged with a misdemeanor count of failing to report child abuse or neglect in April 2012.
The case will be dismissed against her if she completes 40 hours of community service. She also will speak to other teachers and administrators in the Steubenville City School District on the subject of recognizing and reporting child abuse and child neglect. The settlement statement also states Gorman has encouraged the school board to have a speaker from the Ohio Alliance Against Sexual Violence come to the middle school and high school in April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Defense attorney Dennis McNamara of Columbus said, based on the facts, the case would have resulted in a not guilty verdict or the judge dismissing the case prior to jury deliberations.
But Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said attorneys on his staff would have proven the state’s case.
Teachers are among several professions required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. McNamara said the duty to report only applies when a person is serving in their official capacity and not when he or she receives information as a neighbor, friend or concerned parent.
“The evidence at trial will establish that Lynnett Gorman heard about teenagers drinking and/or engaging in sexual conduct, and she inquired into this to determine if her son, then a junior in high school, had been present,” McNamara said in his pretrial brief. “She talked to longtime friends and other parents. She learned that her son was not present. And she learned that the parents of the teenagers who were there had been made aware of the situation. Because she was involved as a parent, and not in her official capacity as an elementary principal, she will be entitled to a judgment of acquittal at the conclusion of the state’s evidence.”
McNamara said Gorman had no actual knowledge or direct evidence of teenage drinking and sexual conduct occurring in April 2012. He said the disputed issue at trial would have been whether Gorman had reasonable cause to suspect that child abuse had occurred.
“High school students engaging in consenual sexual conduct is certainly inappropriate behavior,” McNamara said. “But it is not criminal and it is not child abuse. High school students consuming alcohol is also bad behavior. But if no adults are involved, there is no reason to suspect child abuse in either case.”
“It is just children behaving badly,” McNamara said.
DeWine, meanwhile, said despite Gorman’s continued statements that she does not believe she committed a crime, the evidence proves otherwise.
“She has every right to say that,” DeWine said. “We believe we could have proven the case.”
DeWine, after the issuance of the press release, said nobody should read into the Gorman case as to what may happen in the other cases.
“This was a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Other (cases) have significant felonies,” he said.
DeWine said Gorman is a well-respected principal, with no criminal record. He said Gorman will do her community service at a sexual assault center.