PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) — A judge has rejected a Plum High School teacher’s bid to dismiss witness intimidation charges in connection with a student’s allegation that another teacher had sex with her.
Drew Zoldak of New Kensington is on unpaid leave from the Plum Borough School District.
Plum teacher Joseph Ruggieri is accused of institutional sexual assault. Prosecutors allege that Zoldak singled out Ruggieri’s accuser in class.
Zoldak’s lawyer filed a motion to dismiss the charge, saying there was no evidence that he intimidated the girl. A judge denied the motion Wednesday.
Prosecutors say Zoldak’s comments could have caused the girl to stop cooperating in the case.
According to the alleged victim’s testimony at a preliminary hearing, Zoldak told the students that the reason he missed a class is because detectives from the district attorney’s office were interrogating him “because of her,” referring to the alleged victim.
However, the defense argued there was no intent to intimidate and that the alleged victim may have overreacted.
“We’re not dealing with who’s telling the truth or credibility,” said defense attorney Al Lindsay. “So what occurs is our position, first of all, is if you take the statements that were allegedly made by my client, they don’t amount to intimidation.”
But prosecutor Evan Lowry argued what Zoldak did in effect was trying to protect what he called “the boys’ club” at Plum High School by exposing her and intimidating her. The defense denies that.
“Well, our reaction is there’s no evidence that there’s an ‘old boys’ club’ of Plum teachers, and certainly not that my client was involved,” said Lindsay.
Meanwhile, Ruggieri’s lawyer came to court Wednesday ready to ask Judge David Cashman to throw out his case because the law he’s charged with violating, institutional sexual assault, is unconstitutional because in general it’s overbroad and vague.
But the judge told him he has to notify the state attorney general of those concerns before he can hear that argument.
Attorneys for another defendant Jason Cooper made a similar claim months ago in his case, but argued the law as it was applied to him was unconstitutional. Cooper claimed that because his alleged victim was 18 at the time, that law didn’t apply.
At this point, Zoldak, Cooper and Ruggieri all face trial in February.
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