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San Diego Unified School District is suing an employee firing panel that disagreed with its decision to fire a teacher who was convicted of child molestation, then freed after his convictions were overturned.

Thad Jesperson, formerly a teacher at Toler Elementary, was automatically fired when he was convicted six years ago. He was put on trial three times, but ultimately his conviction was thrown out because of jury misconduct and inadequate legal representation, the Union-Tribune reported. The district attorney decided not to try him again.

After Jesperson’s convictions were reversed, the school district decided to terminate him for immoral conduct and unfitness for service in November 2008. The school district alleged that Jesperson had “engaged in lewd and lascivious acts” with four female students, the same allegations that led to his criminal charges, according to court documents.

Jesperson asked to contest the disciplinary charges in a hearing with the Commission on Professional Competence, an ad hoc committee that weighs teacher discipline issues. Court documents show that Jesperson argued that “he never engaged in misconduct with any student or child” and that trying to fire him based on allegations that had already been tried and overturned in court was “double jeopardy.”

In February of this year, the three-person committee decided that there was no cause to dismiss Jesperson. San Diego Unified argues that that decision wasn’t backed by the evidence, but its legal petition does not specifically explain why.

Jon Vanderpool, an attorney who represents Jesperson, said he could not respond to questions about the case because it is still going on. It is unclear whether Jesperson, who lives in another county, wants to teach in San Diego again or is trying to clear his record so that he can teach elsewhere.

While Jesperson may or may not be fired as the legal case drags on, he isn’t being paid. Mark Bresee, who oversees legal issues in the school district, said Jesperson is on unpaid leave because his teaching credential is still suspended. A hearing on the case is scheduled in Superior Court in October.

— EMILY ALPERT

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