8/22/2014 9:22:00 AM,
Jeff D. Gorman
(CN) - A teacher who lost his job after his arrest on child pornography charges should not have lost his pension, the high court in Massachusetts ruled.
Ninth-grade science teacher Ronald Garney was arrested in 2006 and pleaded guilty to 11 counts of purchasing and possessing child pornography. He was sentenced to 2.5 to 3 years in a house of correction.
Garney resigned after the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, where he had worked for more than 20 years, told him he would be dismissed for conduct unbecoming of a teacher.
One year later, Garney reached retirement age and started collecting benefits from the Massachusetts Teachers' Retirement System.
The MTRS board cut off his benefits in 2009, however, stating that they were forfeited because of his convictions and because he occasionally accessed child-porn websites by using his work email address.
Though a district court affirmed the decision, the superior court reversed.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court agreed, 7-0, Monday that Garney was entitled to retirement benefits.
"Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which Garney was convicted, we concluded that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position, and therefore did not come within the forfeiture provision of (the law)," Justice Robert Cordy wrote for the court.
MRTS failed to show that Garney should forfeit his benefits because a teacher in a special position of trust.
"Criminal conduct that is merely inconsistent with a concept of special public trust placed in the position or defiant of a general professional norm applicable to the position, but not violative of a fundamental precept of the position embodied in a law applicable to it, may be adequate to warrant dismissal, but it is insufficient to justify forfeiture," Cordy said.