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Dismissal of sexual battery charges sought

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THE BLADE
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Attorneys for a former athletic trainer at Clay High School charged with engaging in sexual misconduct with a male student argued in court Thursday that she cannot be prosecuted under Ohio’s sexual battery law.

Attorney Stephen Hartman has asked Lucas County Common Pleas Judge Gary Cook to dismiss the charges against Melinda Rober, contending that as an athletic trainer at the school, she was not a “person in authority” as the law requires. More broadly, he argued the sexual battery statute is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define “person in authority.”

“There are employees in a school and certainly they all to some degree do give an order or make a decision or control something that has to do with their job,” Mr. Hartman said. “Now that would be true if it were a groundskeeper who put up signs to keep people off the grass or if it was a custodian who mopped the floor and roped it off so nobody slipped and fell … but that doesn’t make them a person in authority.”

Ms. Rober, 35, of 2552 106th St. was indicted in May by a Lucas County grand jury on two counts of sexual battery, accused of engaging in sexual conduct with a 17-year-old boy on two occasions in 2011 and 2012.

She was employed by ProMedica under a contract with Clay High School when the alleged offenses occurred.

The sexual battery charges allege she committed the offenses as “a teacher, administrator, coach, or other person in authority employed by or serving in a school.”

In a response filed in opposition to the motion to dismiss, prosecutors say the trier of fact — whether a jury or judge — “should assess evidence provided at trial to determine whether Ms. Rober was a person in authority at the high school.”

Evy Jarrett, an assistant prosecutor, said in court that by definition, an athletic trainer “does interact with students. They are making decisions related to the students.”

Judge Cook took the matter under advisement, but challenged Mr. Hartman in court, saying the statute is purposefully vague because a “person in authority” could include anyone — a groundskeeper, cafeteria worker, or custodian — in certain circumstances.

Ms. Rober, who faces three civil lawsuits filed by former students alleging sexual abuse, is scheduled to go to trial on the criminal charges Jan. 27.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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