Rochester, N.Y. – In a 32-page decision, an arbitrator ruled the Rochester City School District’s long-running disciplinary case against teacher Don Murphy has no merit. The Edison Tech technology teacher was accused of having pornography on his work computer and stealing the school robot.
The case dates back to 2007, when police charged Murphy with stealing the robot after Murphy protested his removal as the robot club’s coach. A city court judge acquitted Murphy of stealing the robot in 2009. Ten days after the acquittal, the district filed disciplinary charges against Murphy with the state education department. The charges included the robot theft and the added allegations of having pornography on his work laptop computer. The district sought Murphy’s termination.
Murphy has been an RCSD technology teacher since 1984 and frequent whistleblower of district policies and school-level incidents.
Since his arrest in 2007, Murphy was placed on paid leave. Over the past few years, he was assigned to report to the district’s alternative work site, also known as the “rubber room.”
Murphy has a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit pending against the district over his arrest.
After 18 days of testimony earlier this year, the arbitrator found there was not enough evidence to prove the robot theft or the computer porn charges. Arbitrator Patrick Westerkamp considered 3,466 pages of transcripts and more than 1,000 pages of evidentiary documents, legal briefs and three DVDs.
Westerkamp detailed the chain of custody of the laptop, saying many people had access to the computer and even appeared to raise the possibility some evidence was planted.
He wrote, “The testimony of some RCSD witnesses was tainted by their animus toward Respondent. Animosity as a motivating factor is explicable as to (former school official Scott) Martzloff & (former principal Eldridge) Moore, and (former principal Linda) Kantor…While testifying during the within hearings, their demeanor, tone of voice, intermittently evasive answers, and/or foggy recollections at times detracted from their credibility. This was particularly so when answering questions about laptops.”
Murphy’s attorney, Jeff Wicks, called the district’s case a “many years battle of them torturing him.” Wicks said he expects the district to appeal the decision to the state education department. “I don’t know what else they can do. Would it be credible if they try to do something else? I think they’re at the end of their rope.”
The arbitrator ruled Murphy should not return to the classroom, however. Westerkamp said Murphy should stay home at 80 percent pay until his lawsuit is finished, because he deemed it too disruptive.
In a statement, the district’s general counsel, Edwin J. Lopez-Soto, said, “The District is profoundly disappointed that the hearing officer failed to consider more than 1,000 pages of evidence and 18 days of testimony which we believe fully prove the charges against Mr. Murphy. We expect that the courts will agree and that the District will prevail in the pending civil action. In the meantime, we are pleased on behalf of our students and families that the hearing officer recognized Mr. Murphy should not be in the classroom.”