December 28, 2010

Court sustains Commissioner of Education’s determination suspending educator’s certification for one year after finding he lacked good moral character

Court sustains Commissioner of Education’s determination suspending educator’s certification for one year after finding he lacked good moral character
Matter of Mudge v Huxley, 2010 NY Slip Op 09311, Decided on December 16, 2010, Appellate Division, Third Department

Randy Mudge, a certified as a teacher and school administrator, requested a hearing in response to a notice from the State Department of Education that a substantial question existed with respect to his moral character.

The hearing panel determined that Mudge “lacked the good moral character necessary to be a teacher in New York State” and recommended suspension of his certificates for one year.

Mudge appealed and although the Commissioner* “modified the findings of the panel," she sustained the one-year suspension of his certificates. Mudge then filed a petition in Supreme Court challenging the Commissioner’s decision.

The Appellate Division said that its review of the Commissioner’s ruling “in this context is limited to whether it is arbitrary and capricious, irrational, affected by an error of law or an abuse of discretion.”**

According to the decision by the Appellate Division, Mudge admitted that he had had sexual intercourse with two former students. Finding a “pattern of behavior in affording the girls preferential treatment while they were students, including the pre-graduation trips to “Mets games,” [the Commissioner] concluded that Mudge had groomed them for a sexual relationship while they were students and then, shortly after they graduated, exploited the relationships that he had cultivated.”

The Appellate Division rejected Mudge’s argument that the Commissioner’s conclusion regarding “grooming of the students prior to graduation is irrational.”

Although Mudge argued that each of the various factors considered by the Commissioner is innocent by itself, and his character is unassailable, the court said that it could not agree. It said that “Given the evidence of [Mudge’s] pattern of behavior with both girls, [the Commissioner’s] determination that [Mudge] was engaged in grooming and that he lacks the requisite moral character to be a teacher in this state is supported by a rational basis.

The Appellate Division then confirmed the Commissioner’s determination and dismissed Mudge’s appeal.

* Interim Commissioner of Education Carole F. Huxley

** The Appellate Division noted that Supreme Court’s transfer of Mudge’s appeal to it “was improper because the appropriate standard of review is not whether the determination is supported by substantial evidence,” it said that it would retain the proceeding and resolve the issues “in the interest of judicial economy.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_09311.htm

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