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05-28-06, 07:37 PM #1
Catholic High School teacher claims it's his right to have sex with 16 year olds
A former high school teacher facing sexual assault charges says his arrest on suspicion of having sexual relations with a student violates a fundamental right guaranteed by both the state and federal constitutions.
Matthew Glasser, a former music teacher at Northwest Catholic High School, was arrested last year under a provision of the state's criminal code that makes having sex with students a crime, even if the student has reached 16 - the age of consent.
But in a motion filed in Superior Court in Hartford, Glasser claims the statute infringes on his constitutional right to privacy, which, he argues, includes engaging in a sexual relationship with another consenting adult. Glasser was 29 when the relationship is alleged to have taken place; the girl was 16.
"We believe that the statute infringes on a fundamental right to sexual privacy and therefore does not hold up under constitutional scrutiny," said Jeremy Donnelly, one of Glasser's lawyers.
Glasser is facing eight counts of second-degree sexual assault, a felony with a minimum mandatory sentence of nine months. The statute was drafted, in part, to prevent teachers and others from taking advantage of their position. Advocates for such laws argue that because teachers have so much sway, students are not truly able to consent.
But in the legal brief challenging his arrest, Glasser - while not admitting he had sex with the student - contends that the statute is inconsistent with years of legal precedent upholding the constitutional right to privacy.
The brief, which has yet to be argued before a Superior Court judge, contends that privacy rights cannot be infringed upon unless there's a "compelling state interest" in doing so; The brief goes on to say that the statute falls short of defining such an interest. A similar motion in the case of a New Haven teacher is pending before the state Supreme Court.
The legal challenge, Donnelly said, takes on only the criminalization of relationships between teachers and students, not school board policies or state licensing requirements that might prohibit such relationships. In Connecticut, public school teachers can lose their licenses over such relationships.
"There's nothing wrong with a school board saying this kind of conduct is impermissible under their policy; it's just the criminal aspect that doesn't hold up under scrutiny," he said.
"I think it's appalling. It's sick," said Terri Miller, president of Sesame, a national organization that works to prevent sex abuse by educators. "To make a claim like this shows you how sick this person is, that they think they have some kind of constitutional right to take advantage of children."
Miller praised Connecticut for recognizing the difference between teachers and others who have authority over children, and other professions. Connecticut is one of more than two dozen states to criminalize sexual relations between teachers and students.
"As parents, we are mandated to place our children in the care of teachers on the faith that they will do everything they can to improve their lives and foster their development," Miller said. "To take advantage of that faith by trying to have sex with a child is disgusting, and of course it should be illegal."
One prominent constitutional expert said Glasser's challenge isn't likely to be well-received.
"I think that's an uphill battle," said Hartford lawyer Wesley Horton. "If the girl is 16 and the teacher is 29, there's a pretty strong interest in preventing that kind of conduct."
According to court records, Glasser made repeated overtures to the female student in early 2005 and, by the middle of April, she began spending the night at his apartment. The student told police she had sex with Glasser at least eight times until she decided to report their relationship to authorities on May 3, 2005, records say.
During an interview with detectives, the student provided several details of Glasser's bedroom, including a stuffed frog he kept on his bed, and police later found the frog in the bedroom during a search of the apartment, records say.
Glasser's motion closely mimics a similar legal challenge which is expected to be heard by the state Supreme Court later this year.
In that case, former New Haven high school teacher Van McKenzie-Adams is challenging his conviction on sexual assault charges after two former students complained that they had consensual sex with him on several occasions. McKenzie-Adams challenged his conviction to the state Appellate Court, which in turn transferred the case to the Supreme Court.
Richard Emanuel, McKenzie-Adams' attorney, claims that the state's sexual assault statute unfairly makes it illegal for teachers and other school officials to take part in sexual relationships that would be legal for people in other walks of life.
In particular, Emanuel notes in one legal brief, the statute prohibits teachers from having sex with students even if they are not in their class, or enrolled in the school where they teach. Emanuel notes that a teacher could be arrested under the statute even if the teacher meets the student outside of school, and is unaware that the student is a student.
On the other hand, Emanuel notes, such a relationship would be legal if the student had a sexual relationship with an older person who was not an educator.
William Gerace, one of Glasser's lawyers, said the challenge relies heavily on the McKenzie-Adams case. He and Donnelly have not enlisted the help of other constitutional experts or organizations to support their challenge.
"I'm not sure how successful the other case will be, but it will give us a good idea how successful we're going to be," Gerace said.
Sandra Tullius, the prosecutor handling the Glasser case, was not available to comment on Glasser's challenge. The case is headed to trial at Superior Court in Hartford, with no date set for the next hearing.
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