Longform

Once More With Feeling

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As it turns out, Rodriguez had spelled the suspect's name "Hutchens," with an "e" instead of an "i." The department's computers hadn't picked up on it.

Maricopa County Attorney Rick Romley provided his own bit of spin in declining to prosecute DeWalt and Funk for failing to report Wade Hutchins to the proper authorities. Romley wrote to their superiors to say that, for technical reasons, his office had determined "no reasonable likelihood of conviction" would ensue.

"Unfortunately," Romley added, "the decision to handle this incident at an administrative level within the school district did not allow a full investigation as contemplated by the Legislature."

The Hutchins case illuminates a huge loophole in Arizona's statutes on mandatory reporting of abuse. It comes in this clause: "Any [school personnel] having responsibility for the care or treatment of children whose observation or examination of any minor discloses reasonable grounds to believe" that the minor has been abused . . ." (Emphasis added.)

In other words, a school principal or any other official in Arizona may escape prosecution by claiming he or she failed for whatever reason to "observe or examine" a possible abuse victim.

That caveat has been raised by DeWalt's defenders.
In the wake of Hutchins' arrest, many of his student victims transferred out of the district. The victims' civil lawyers are putting their own spin on the case. They depict a world in which irate, frightened parents marched into Judy DeWalt's office and declared their sons were being sexually molested--without mentioning the doubts many once had expressed.

Even a parent whose child hadn't been molested entered the fray.
Within two weeks of Wade Hutchins' May 10 conviction, the state Department of Education's Professional Practices Advisory Committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony in a matter brought by David Cool against Judy DeWalt.

Cool, a Maricopa County employee with no legal training, is seeking sanctions against DeWalt.

"I have taught my son if he has a problem at school," Cool told the committee, "he can go to his principal or teacher and he will be in a safe haven and that he can trust them. That trust has been more than shaken. It's been shattered."

One of DeWalt's lawyers argued his client had acted admirably.
"She acted within the utmost morality," attorney Steve Leach said. "At no point, until the allegations leading up to [Hutchins'] immediate suspension, did Judy DeWalt ever hear that Wade Hutchins had touched the genitals of a child. . . . She knew she had a teacher in front of her who had given wonderful service to that community, to the Cactus View School."

Cool's heart was in the right place. But his emotions and lack of legal experience weighed against him. Leach overwhelmed Cool with superior oratorial and procedural skills.

"I would hazard to guess," Leach told the committee, "that since I've been talking, there have been a dozen kids across the Phoenix area who have been hugged by a teacher. Maybe a couple of their shirts [were] tucked in, a couple got pats on the head, arms around. Are those teachers pedophiles? . . . We know that parents aren't happy with the fact that under the new policies, that's almost the standard of reporting."

Like the Phoenix Police Department's Mike Torres, Leach was prescient.
"There is no private parts mentioned in the DARE letter," Leach said, trying to build an argument based on a missing document by claiming that DeWalt had been under no legal obligation to report Wade Hutchins.

DeWalt won the day. The committee voted unanimously to recommend that the State Board of Education take no action.

The board is scheduled to consider the DeWalt issue at its June 24 meeting.
"I got my butt handed to me in about 20 different ways," David Cool says. "But I truly believe that Mrs. DeWalt and Tom Krebs breached the faith that we as parents entrust in them as educators and administrators. If only they had let law enforcement do its job, a bunch of kids might not have had to go through what they went through."

Cool, however, says he's happy about one tidbit of news confirmed at the committee hearings by Steve Leach.

"I guess she's about to become the director of curriculum for the Paradise Valley school district," Cool says. "I guess that means she'll be pushing paper upstairs somewhere instead of having to deal with all these protection and reporting issues. That's fine with me."

The new position is considered a promotion, and DeWalt can expect a raise.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin