Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Did schools act
quickly enough
against molester?

That's a question asked in a
suit filed by the parents of
two alleged victims

By Debra Barayuga


It's been 3-1/2 years since convicted child molester Lawrence Norton was fired as a teacher from the state Department of Education.

But questions of whether the department acted quickly and appropriately in response to allegations Norton molested two female students were to be raised today as a trial on a lawsuit filed by their parents gets under way.

At issue is how administrators dealt with accusations against Norton.

He had been allowed to return to teaching with no restrictions and administrators apparently did not conduct an inquiry into his history after a previous allegation that he had molested a child.

"At no time did officials of the Department of Education seek to impose any special obligation or subject his conduct, which subsequently turned unusual, to a higher level of scrutiny," Mark Davis, the attorney for the parents, said in a court filing.

Unbeknownst to the state, Norton had an extensive history of pedophilia, Davis said.

Norton has since filed for bankruptcy and is no longer a defendant in the suit but will testify. He declined comment, saying he has nothing to say to the media.

State Deputy Attorney General George Hom, representing the Department of Education, also declined comment.


Norton was hired before a 1990 law allowing the department to check into the criminal history of employees whose positions bring them into contact with children.

Those hired before the law were grandfathered into the system, said Al Yoshii, the department's acting superintendent of personnel, who could not comment specifically on Norton's case because it is pending.

Once a person is hired, the department can only investigate allegations of actions that arise from current behavior on the job, Yoshii said.

"Everyone has due process rights and only if you have enough evidence and documentation can you take action."

Once a complaint is brought, it's usually up to the school principal to determine whether the allegations are valid before seeking the assistance of district personnel or police, Yoshii said.

Norton began teaching fourth graders at Mokapu Elementary School in January 1990. In his five years there, six children reported he had sexually molested students.

The first allegation came in September 1991 when a female student reported to police that while giving her a hug, Norton had fondled her breast.

Despite the allegation, Norton was allowed to continue teaching and was granted tenure four months later.

He was subsequently indicted in February 1992 after the girl's parents went to police.


Norton went to trial in January 1993, at which time he was suspended from teaching until the resolution of the trial.

The girl claimed that Norton granted hall passes to select female students to return to his classroom during the lunch hour to play games.

The girls could listen to music, play games and were given special classroom responsibilities or privileges. When the lunch hour ended, he routinely gave each girl candy and a hug.

Mokapu teachers testified on behalf of Norton and accused the girl of being learning disabled and fabricating the story.

He was subsequently acquitted by a jury on Jan. 11 and was back in the classroom about a week later.

Norton not only returned to the classroom but resumed issuing special passes to female students inviting them to his classroom during lunch, Davis said.

In January 1995, another student accused him of fondling her breast. That incident was witnessed by another student. Norton was indicted and placed on paid administrative leave. Norton subsequently pleaded no contest to the charges in November 1995. He was sentenced to one year in prison and five years probation in May 1996.

In the meantime, four other students came forward saying they had witnessed Norton fondling or that he fondled them on torsos, breasts and buttocks as he hugged them.

He was indicted in May 1996 for fondling two of the girls and was fired by the Department of Education the next day.

The incidents reported by the two girls, the alleged victims in the civil case, went to trial twice.

The first trial resulted in a hung jury. The second jury acquitted him.

Norton's wife, Marie Valerie Norton, originally named as a defendant, reached a confidential settlement with the parents last year, according to her attorney, Tom Cook.

E-mail to City Desk

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