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New Jersey Teacher Pleads Not Guilty To Having Sex With 18 Year-old Student

January 8, 2015  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
New Jersey Teacher Pleads Not Guilty To Having Sex With 18 Year-old Student Image courtesy of nj.com

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A West Morris Mendham High School teacher pleaded not guilty Wednesday during her first court appearance on an accusation that she had sexual relations with an 18-year-old student.

Nicole McDonough, 32, of Mount Olive pleaded not guilty to official misconduct,the only charge she is facing. She entered the plea through her attorney, Timothy Smith.

McDonough and the unnamed Mendham High student engaged in sexual intercourse between May 31, 2014 and June 2, 2014, according to a criminal complaint signed by Morris County Prosecutor’s Detective Bruce LaFera.

The detective said it was a case of official misconduct because McDonough’s actions constituted an “unauthorized exercise” of her “official functions.” She was not charged with any sex crime in the case involving an 18-year-old student, considered an adult in the eyes of the law.

In an interview after the court appearance, Smith, the defense attorney, said McDonough will fight the charge and she intends to prove her innocence.
“I know for a fact that she’s not guilty,” Smith said. “She did not have sex with the student, and she’s not guilty of official misconduct.”

Smith said he doesn’t expect McDonough to apply for admission into the Pretrial Intervention program, a form of probation that requires no admission of guilt and allows a charge to be dismissed if a defendant successfully completes the program.
“I don’t see that,” Smith said. “There’s no basis for this prosecution.”

McDonough made her brief court appearance at Central Judicial Processing in Superior Court in Morristown, where defendants in Morris County make their first appearance when they are charged with an indictable offense.

Judge Michael Carlucci assigned McDonough’s case to Superior Court Judge Stuart Minkowitz in Morristown and scheduled her next court date for Feb. 3 as an Early Disposition Conference.

In a similar case in Middlesex County, Smith earlier this year got an indictment dismissed against a Piscataway teacher who also faced a charge of official misconduct for allegedly having sex with an 18-year-old student.

The judge ruled that the relationship was not unlawful because the student was 18 years old. Therefore, although the act was unauthorized, the official misconduct charge could not stand, the judge said.

His order is now under appeal by the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which has contended that sex with a public school student is illegal under New Jersey law.

But Smith denied that is the case, either locally or statewide.

In the West Morris Mendham district, “Employees were not under direct notice that this (sex with an adult student) was unauthorized,” Smith said.

“This is an overreaching, over-zealous prosecution,” he said. “It’s based on someone’s perception of what the law should be, as opposed to what it is.”

Officials in the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office have declined to comment on why McDonough was charged only with official misconduct and not with any sex offense.

Law enforcement officials have not commented on the case beyond an official statement issued Dec. 30, the day of McDonough’s arrest, by Morris Prosecutor Fredrick Knapp and Mendham Borough Police Chief Pasquale Libertino.

The statement said McDonough was charged with official misconduct after “Law enforcement received information that … McDonough engaged in a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student while she was employed as a teacher at West Morris Mendham High School.”

The superintendent of the West Morris Regional High School District, Mackey Pendergrast, said last week that McDonough was placed on leave and suspended.

He has declined further comment.
“Please be aware that we do not (and legally cannot) discuss school personnel issues publicly,” Pendergrast said.

McDonough earns an annual “contractual salary” of $53,345, according to the district’s business administrator, L. Douglas Pechanec.

McDonough posted $75,000 bail and was released shortly after her arrest on Dec. 30, according to court records. She was released under the condition that she have no contact with the alleged victim.

McDonough is listed at the school’s website as an English teacher and a member of the faculty at Mendham High, though a faculty page about her has been taken down since her arrest.

McDonough holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the College of St. Elizabeth in Morris Township, according to the website.

She had been teaching honors and International Baccalaureate-level English courses at the high school, according to information that was removed from the website on Wednesday.

On the website, McDonough had said she is in her seventh year as a teacher, all in the West Morris Regional High School District. She said she taught at West Morris Central High from 2007 to 2011, and returned to the district in April 2013 to teach at West Morris Mendham.

From NJ.com

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