Charges against Knodel dropped
WEST FARGO - After a judge on Monday dismissed the remaining two charges against Aaron Knodel, the criminal case against the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of having a sexual relationship with a student is over.
WEST FARGO – After a judge on Monday dismissed the remaining two charges against Aaron Knodel, the criminal case against the 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the Year accused of having a sexual relationship with a student is over.
But whether Knodel will return to teaching and his job as an English teacher in West Fargo is still unknown.
When the state licensing board meets Aug. 3, it plans to discuss Knodel's license. Although Knodel was acquitted of the charges, the board may determine he violated the educators' code of ethics in some way, said Janet Welk, executive director of the Education Standards and Practices Board.
"The board at their next meeting will review with [its] counsel from the attorney general's office all of the information and then they will then make a decision as to how to proceed," Welk said.
The board could dismiss the issue or revoke his license. The board could also fine Knodel, suspend his license, require Knodel do some type of coursework before returning to teaching, or they could offer him some sort of settlement or agreement, Welk said.
The state licensing board took no action regarding Knodel's license when he was charged on Aug. 21 with five felony counts of corruption of a minor. Under state law, the licensing board must immediately revoke the teaching license of someone found guilty of a crime against a child or a sexual offense.
The West Fargo School Board did not address Knodel's position as a Sheyenne High School English teacher at its regular meeting Monday.
Superintendent David Flowers said the board has not yet determined the next steps to take. He said he will likely meet with district attorneys and Knodel's attorney to determine the next steps, which could take place in a matter of days or it could be weeks.
The West Fargo School District suspended Knodel without pay Aug. 22 after he was placed on paid leave in February while an investigation was ongoing.
In an order filed Monday, Cass County District Court Judge Steven McCullough dismissed the remaining two charges against Knodel without prejudice, which is a legal term meaning Knodel can be retried if new evidence comes to light.
"The court should grant the dismissal with prejudice only if there is clear and convincing evidence that the prosecutor is acting in bad faith, contrary to public interest, or intentionally harassing the defendant," McCullough wrote. "There is no evidence, much less clear and convincing evidence, that the prosecutors in this case have acted in anything other than good faith."
Knodel's attorney, Robert Hoy, had asked the court to dismiss the case with prejudice on Friday. Knodel was accused of having sexual contact with a 17-year-old student in 2009.
While McCullough's order on Monday sided with prosecutors, he did address the strong statements state Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers made in his motion on Thursday to dismiss the case. Byers blamed setbacks in the case on Hoy's insistence on "trying the case in the media" and criticized McCullough for calling the state's case "weak" in court documents where the media would report it.
Byers also criticized McCullough for ruling that a continuance in the case would be unfair to Knodel but not considering the effects of the case on the alleged victim.
McCullough wrote Monday that his statements were made as examples of case law. He said there was a precedent to consider the effects on Knodel because state and U.S. Supreme court case law mandates him to do so.
"For the state to suggest the court's analysis is somehow flawed because it considered a mandatory factor and failed to consider a non-existent factor is not warranted," McCullough wrote.
After a five-day trial in April, McCullough on June 4 upheld a jury's three not-guilty verdicts and declared a mistrial of the two remaining charges. During the April trial, a juror was taken to the hospital where she said she was the lone holdout for a guilty verdict and had not disclosed she was a victim of sexual abuse.
Hoy said Friday he would not be representing Knodel in any civil proceedings. Bismarck attorney Michael Geiermann is expected to represent Knoden in any civil proceedings. Geiermann could not be reached for comment Monday.
Supporters of Knodel, including many West Fargo teachers, have started an online fund and the Knodel Family Benefit Fund at Gate City Bank to help cover Knodel's legal fees. The state teacher's union does not pay for legal fees related to criminal issues while the case is still being litigated, but may assist with legal battles concerning his profession, according to Lisa K. Dullum, president of the West Fargo Education Association.