In a reply filed on June 20 with the state Supreme Court, attorney Richard Kass defends hearing officer Jeffrey Sherman’s May ruling against Adam Heller in a disciplinary proceeding, which allowed for the English teacher’s termination.
Heller was accused of not being cooperative with an April 2013 mental fitness investigation, which came after he was met by police that January and taken to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla.
Court documents state that Heller, a Pound Ridge resident, purchased guns in December 2012 and that he had an online dialogue that month with a person named Georgia O’Connor. In that dialogue, it is claimed in a court filing, he mentioned a conspiracy involving the Newtown, Conn., school shootings in December 2012 and manipulation of the weather. Law enforcement, including the FBI and police from Bedford and Pound Ridge, subsequently became involved.
“Mr. Heller has tried to cast himself as a martyr whom the District has persecuted for his mental illness, or for his exercise of his First Amendment right to espouse bizarre conspiracy theories, or for his exercise of his Second Amendment right to purchase guns,” a reply states. “But that is not what this case is about. This case is based on the reasonable inference of danger that flows from a combination of factors: Mr. Heller's threatening statements, his decision to buy guns at about the same time he made those statements, his unwillingness to provide an honest explanation for why he bought guns at that time, his refusal to cooperate with the legally-sanctioned Section 913 psychiatric examination, his refusal to accept psychiatric treatment, and his failure to call any psychiatric witnesses who would be willing to testify on his behalf.”
The statement concludes: “When these elements are combined, it is just a matter of common sense that Mr. Heller does not belong in the classroom — or at least that a hearing officer could reasonably so conclude.”
Kass contends that the hearing officer’s decision was supported by the record and that the court “is not permitted to substitute its judgment for the Hearing Officer's.” Michael Sussman, who is Heller’s lawyer, disputes both arguments in a June 26 filing.
Sussman in his filing, stated the following: “This case has an evocative propensity and bears a tendency for sensationalism -- a school teacher who purchased guns and explored offbeat and unconventional theories, including conspiracies regarding the tragic killings in Newtown, Connecticut. It is apparent that the Hearing Officer elevated emotion over fact and now the District seeks to capitalize on that blunder.
"But we respectfully implore this Court to view the record objectively and, when it does, as we are confident it will, it should discover that the Hearing Officer's Decision is made out of whole cloth and that the District's defense thereof suffers from the same irrationality and baselessness.”
In a filing for the proceeding before Sherman rendered a decision, Sussman contended that Heller had been cooperative with the investigation and that there is no evidence that he poses a risk. Sussman also notes that Heller had strong reviews as a teacher and that he did not get any complaints.
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