Teachers face special dangers at criminal arraignments

By David Blanchard, Esq.
Nacht Law

For any professional, the prospect of a criminal charge, even a simple misdemeanor, can present a serious threat to a job and a career. 

For teachers and public school employees, 2005 Michigan "School Safety" legislation (2005 PA 129-131 and 138) presents a special danger for future employment. 

Though it has been effective since Jan. 1, 2006, many criminal defense lawyers and judges are unaware of the special reporting requirements for teachers charged with a crime. 
As a result, minor violations of the law can too often become major employment issues with far-reaching employment consequences.

In order to protect the rights of their clients, competent criminal defense lawyers need to know the law and advise their clients to avoid the traps.

For those facing arraignment on a criminal charge, even before most defendants secure counsel, proper notice of their obligations from the district court judge may be all that stands between them and the unemployment line.

Example: a Michigan public school teacher is charged with a felony or one of many enumerated misdemeanors––felony obstruction of an officer is a common arraignment charge––may be based on "mouthing off" or simply on a refusal to take a breathalyzer.

His criminal defense lawyer believing this offense can easily be dismissed later allows the client to be arraigned on the charge and a week later negotiates a dismissal of the charge in exchange for a non-criminal "civil infraction" or some other minor offense. 

All is well, right? Not so fast.  If the arraignment is not reported within three days, the public school teacher is in violation of the School Safety Act and subject to summary dismissal. 
Many school districts are taking a hard line "no excuses" approach on enforcement of the act.

Among other things, the School Safety Act imposes two reporting requirements: it requires school employees to self-report to both the employing district and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) (1) when they have been arraigned and (2) when they have been convicted of a felony or certain enumerated misdemeanors.

The self-reporting must be done within three business days. 

For arraignment, any felony charge must be reported and the same goes for a number of misdemeanor offenses, including among other offenses, breaking and entering, larceny, assault, assault and battery, drug manufacturing or delivery, child abuse (in any degree), and any sex crime listed in the sex offender registry act (such as criminal sexual conduct, indecent exposure, assault with intent to commit csc, or any number of similar ordinance violations).

Michigan has developed disclosure forms for teachers arraigned or convicted on criminal charges, but they are rarely if ever made available at the place and time of arraignment. 
Teachers and school workers are left to find the information for themselves, through internet searches or maybe down at the local MEA, AFT or AFSCME office. 

Upon conviction the law requires mandatory disclosure to the court and even requires prosecutors to notify school districts directly. 

However, the most dangerous time for many teachers is arraignment, where representation is the exception and magistrates or judges are crunched for time.

In order to ensure protection of teacher rights, it is crucial that judges and criminal defense lawyers are aware of, and can advise on, the self-reporting obligations.

This is because if the employee fails to report the charge or conviction, then the school district may discharge the person from employment and terminate his contract.

Moreover, the failure to self-report may render the employee guilty of an additional crime: if the non-reported charge or conviction is a felony or listed (sex crime) offense, then the criminal defendant may be guilty of a felony; and if the non-reported charge is any other enumerated misdemeanor, then failure to disclose is another misdemeanor in itself.

It is essential that judges and lawyers are aware and able to advise on the special legal requirements for teachers, so all employees working for a school district may avoid serious threats to their job based only on a lack of information about legal obligations.  At Nacht Law, we are proud of our ability to provide sound legal advice to teachers, paraprofessionals and other school employees, and solid criminal AND employment representation to avoid these pitfalls.   From our home in Ann Arbor, we stand up for the rights of teachers and school employees throughout Michigan. 

David Blanchard is president of the MI Employment Lawyers Association.  He is a principal at the firm of Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard and Walker P.C., where he practices in the fields of employment law, executive compensation, and healthcare, among others.   For more info, visit Nachtlaw.com.

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