The witness testimony for the hearing of the New Mexico Public Education Department vs. David Lawrence was held, Monday, at the Roswell Independent School District school board room. The hearing was called to review the former Goddard High School coach’s licensing as a school teacher following allegations of sexual misconduct.
The Notice of Contemplated Action was not issued until Nov. 11, 2011, after Lawrence had been acquitted on charges of criminal sexual contact of a minor. The PED document stated: “Sufficient evidence exists to justify … suspending, revoking or taking other disciplinary action against the Licensee’s (Lawrence) license.”
Consulting attorney for the PED Chris Romero reviewed the previous investigations into the purported inappropriate relationship between Lawrence and a Goddard High School student which left Lawrence subject to possible disciplinary action.
Romero asked Kayla Powell to tell the hearing about what she felt was a burgeoning relationship between herself and Lawrence. She described attempts to get his attention and one late-night visit to the Lawrence home after the Goddard versus Roswell High School basketball game when she said he had reportedly fondled her before rejecting her and telling her to leave his home.
When Romero asked if Lawrence had ever told her that this was wrong, she replied, “no.”
Attorney Doug Jones-Witt concentrated on reported statements that Powell was alleged to have made to fellow students that she was sleeping with Lawrence. Although she admitted to having made these statements and said they were false, she denied threatening her fellow students. She wept when she discussed the consequences that the incident and the subsequent investigation had in her life.
During the cross-examination of the witness, Jones-Witt noted that she had taunted Lawrence. Jones-Witt was eventually asked by the head of the PED public hearing, Morgan Lyman, to give Powell the time to answer before the next question.
In re-cross, Romero inquired what Powell’s motivation was in following through with her suit. She responded that it was to “protect other girls.”
Lawrence continued to deny that anything inappropriate had happened between himself and the student, as he had during the court hearing. He told the hearing that he tended to spend more time with students than other teachers did. When asked if he had a relationship with Powell, he said without hesitation. “We didn’t have a relationship, at all.”
Lawrence acknowledged that he recognized that Powell had a crush on him. Jones-Witt queried: “Was there anything that gave you cause for concern?” He replied. “None.”
In his cross-examination of Lawrence, Romero asked if the teacher had ever given his cell phone number to students and Lawrence admitted he had given it to certain athletes. However, he denied providing his phone number or his address to Powell. He could not explain how she had obtained them to make the late-night visit.
Romero repeated RISD policy about inappropriate conduct between teachers and students. Lawrence said that since “nothing had happened” he saw no reason to report the visit.
When provided with an opportunity to make closing statements, Romero said Lawrence had time to stop what was going on. “Even if it was one touch; it was inappropriate.” He noted that Lawrence exhibited bad judgment in not reporting the student’s visit to his home. “That silence is indicative of not wanting to reveal too much. … He had a lot to lose.”
He defended PED’s witness. “They call her an uncredible witness, but there’s nothing inconsistent in her testimony. … At no time does she change her story.”
Romero posed the question that if her goal was to discredit Lawrence then “why not tell a good one? Why not tell something more salacious?”
Romero recommended total revocation of Lawrence’s licensure.
In his closing statement, Jones-Witt said: “No one will argue that (David Lawrence) made a poor judgment call.” He asked PED to rescind revocation of Lawrence from the list of possible disciplinary measures. Jones-Witt argued that to lose his license would not only prohibit Lawrence from working in New Mexico, but also not permit him to work as a teacher anywhere else in the country.
When hearing officer Lymon asked for clarification, Witt said: “I’m beginning to sound like a lawyer talking both sides of my face,” but he said if punishment was necessary then he recommended suspension for a period of six months, adding: “We will leave that decision in your capable hands.”
Unlike court where the decision is immediate, the hearing did not conclude the day of testimony. Instead, each attorney is required to provide exhibits to Lyman by Feb. 1, 2013, which will be reviewed and recommendations made, which PED may later choose to overturn.
Following the hearing, Romero was asked why no other witnesses which had given testimony during the criminal case were called. He stated that the court transcripts of specified witnesses in both the District Court and Magistrate Court hearings were sufficient. When noted that some witnesses, who may have had pertinent comments, such as one-time Goddard Principal Andrew Sweet, were not included on the list of the specified witnesses, Romero said that it was not necessary.