The challenges of false accusations

by BJ

I spoke with you a little over a year ago regarding a legal matter I was facing in Illinois. To briefly recap, it was a case involving allegations when I was a substitute/interim teacher in which some students alleged I had touched or rubbed their back (Read his previous published letter).

Child Protective Services and Specialists from [Identifying information has been removed to protect confidentiality] Advocacy Group had both determined the allegations were baseless and unfounded. Nonetheless, the State's Attorney pursued charges of misdemeanor sexual abuse and misdemeanor battery for a single case with 26 counts. At the time I had written you, the matter was still pending. I wanted to take the opportunity to update you on some of those resolutions and events that transpired since I last spoke with you.

I had at the time also relayed my concerns with the current attorney who represented me on the matter.

Unfortunately, I let him finish the case since he had already taken his money. At the very last minute of the case in October 2007, he greatly pressured/forced me into taking a plea deal to a single count of non-harmful misdemeanor battery. In exchange, the state dismissed all sexual abuse counts and all other battery counts. It was beyond a tough decision because the court had indicated to both sides it would direct a finding of acquittal on the sexual abuse counts because they couldn't be proved up. However, it came down to what the judge might deem "any contact of an insulting nature."  In addition, one of the children involved in the case had a father that was the president of the local school board and a Harvard Law school graduate who is a big influence in the [community] legal community, especially with judges.

Given that set of circumstances, I somehow came to tell myself I should consider the plea, because I certainly didn't want 13 counts of battery on my record should the judge conservatively look at the matter and find the contact insulting.

In the aftermath, the judge imposed a sentenced of two years probation (scheduled to end later this year). Even after going to the counseling and evaluation performed by the state's psychologist indicated no criminal or antisocial pathology in my background, only "naiveness."

After sentencing, I immediately terminated that attorney and sought new counsel. Of course, his advice was that, even given those circumstances, that the state couldn't meet their burden in the battery cases and he told me I definitely should have taken the trial, but that the pressure and duress was definitely understandable. He has helped me greatly in the case up to now as much as possible. He had put in a motion to vacate the conviction toward the end of probation and ask the court to modify to only supervision (which would allow me not to have the battery conviction on my record).

I have spoke with other attorneys who advised that I should seek a Governors Pardon from Governor. I like and have faith in him that he would possible do the right thing and issue a pardon. He is the only one that tends to stand up to State's Attorneys and the Attorney General.

I am seriously considering asking the governor to review the matter.  As of right now, I am pursuing my Master's Degree in Elementary Ed in [city], but the battery on my record may even prevent me from completely finishing that, even though it doesn't disqualify one from officially holding a teaching license. I know it would still make it difficult for me to find a permanent teaching position within a school district, because they always access records, even small misdemeanor ones. 

In my undergrad, I graduated in Child Development and Elementary Education - I received the "highest distinction" possible (summa cum laude).  Given my current circumstances, it seems almost like a hopeless battle. However, I am not going to give up the career I love.

I guess I believe, maybe incorrectly, that someone will eventually do the right thing and clear my record. It's just finding the right person. I was wondering if you might be able to refer me to a law firm in the [city] area who might consider doing pro bono work on this case to clear my record. I was told it typically cost around $10,000 to go in front of the Governors Review Board to argue for a pardon, which is something I don't have since I have never been able to find a permanent teaching position.

So, if you or anyone you know has any ideas for firms in the [city] area that might be able to help me, I would greatly appreciate any referrals. On the other hand, if you have any other advice or recommendations, I am open. I am willing to do almost anything to clear my record.

Either way, at the end of the day I still have a clear conscience that I am a good person with the highest moral values and am determined to find a great teaching job.  That's something the legal system hasn't taken away from me yet!