Friday, June 5, 2009

Fanjul 1, Lolita 0: Judge Ann Boyden Finds West High Teacher Jose Fanjul Not Guilty On All Ten Sex-Related Charges In Salt Lake City

Justice finally prevails! Jose Bernardo Fanjul's nine-month legal ordeal finally came to an end on June 5th, 2009 when Third District Judge Ann Boyden found him not guilty on all ten sex exploitation charges against him after a four-day trial. Judge Boyden said the evidence presented was "not sufficient" to prove the defendant committed the 10 felonies with which he was charged. Full stories published in the Deseret News, the Salt Lake Tribune, KSL Channel 5, and KSTU Channel 13. KSL video embedded below:

Video Courtesy of

The 46-year-old Fanjul, a teacher at Salt Lake City's West High School who has been on administrative leave without pay since his September 2008 arrest, had been charged with five counts of forcible sodomy, a first-degree felony, and five counts of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony, for alleged sexual acts that prosecutors say took place between March 1st and July 31st in 2008. But the case against Fanjul began to weaken once it was disclosed that the complainant was also the "victim" in an earlier case against former West High counselor Marco Herrera, who admitted to having a sexual relationship with her and ended up going to prison. In addition, the "victim" claimed that she had "dozens" of sexual encounters with Fanjul in his classroom, the school elevator, at his home and in his car. Thus the complainant began to look like a Lolita from the very beginning.

Nonetheless, the legal jousting continued. In November, Fanjul pleaded not guilty to all charges, and a trial was tentatively scheduled for February. In early January, the February trial was delayed indefintely despite defense objections. The trial was then rescheduled, but again abruptly cancelled in early May. At that time, defense attorneys filed a dismissal motion, which was rejected by the judge. All parties finally agreed to a bench trial before Judge Ann Boyden alone, to begin on June 2nd. You can review all previous posts, beginning with the most current, for more details on all this legal wrangling.

During the first day of the trial, the "victim" testified. She said she met Fanjul her sophomore year at West High School when he was her history teacher. She said he asked for suggestions on how to improve his teaching. She emailed him, sparking a friendship that she says eventually turned sexual. She described numerous intimate encounters with Fanjul at West High, claiming that they kissed and fondled each other in his classroom and in the school's elevator. She also claimed she met him at his house twice during the summer. She further testified that she felt flattered and wore clothes Fanjul liked, like tight spandex and high heels.

During the next two days, prosecutors attempted to support her story by presenting graphic testimony and evidence of phone calls and personal online conversations between Fanjul and the girl. Prosecutor Cristine Ortega said the frequency of phone calls, emails and Internet chats between the two indicated there was "something more than a teacher/student relationship". Ortega said the phone records show Fanjul and the girl two spoke from three to 12 times per day during some periods. But defense attorneys countered by marching in students, teachers, custodians and a secretary from West High School in support of Fanjul. None of them could attest to ever seeing inappropriate behavior between the teacher and the girl.

Following the trial, the so-called "victim", sitting with her father, step-mother and step-sister, appeared stunned, then began crying quietly. In contrast, Fanjul reacted joyously, hugged his attorneys and his family and many of his supporters broke into tears. "I was afraid this was going to become a high-tech lynching," Fanjul said. "But thanks to [my attorney] and a judge who is outstanding and honorable, they stopped the lynching." When asked what he was going to do next with his life, Fanjul quipped: "Go on a world tour with the Spice Girls."

However, this cannot be the end of it. One man is already in prison, and another has spent tens of thousands of dollars, lost his income, and had his life placed on hold for nine months because of this so-called "victim". This "victim" had a reputation for coming on to adult males in school. She poses a risk to any man who finds himself alone with her. It must be determined why she made the complaint in the first place, and if psychiatric treatment is warranted, it must be ordered. Certainly, she hasn't the resources to repay Fanjul, and her parents cannot be penalized for believing her and standing by her, but there's got to be some reassurance that she won't do this again. That reassurance does NOT yet exist. It is necessary in order to achieve final closure.

Update June 8th: According to a new article published in the Salt Lake Tribune, Fanjul is not exactly a cinch to get his job back. An investigation is under way to determine whether the award-winning, and admittedly unconventional, teacher should retain his license. And Salt Lake City School District officials must decide whether to fire him for professional misconduct or welcome him back next fall. All this will happen behind closed doors; education officials won't discuss specifics.

But the bar for sanction and dismissal is lower than for a criminal conviction. Codes of professional conduct are open to interpretation and only a preponderance of evidence is needed, said Carol Lear, an attorney who advises a professional licensing and conduct commission at the state Office of Education. "Just because a teacher is not guilty of a crime, doesn't mean he or she is entitled to be licensed," Lear said. "A lot of things came out in trial, even from [Fanjul's] own witnesses, that merit review from a professional standpoint." Lear expects a decision this summer.

Frankly, I think he deserves his job back, but there should be one condition - that he is not allowed to communicate with students via text-messaging or e-mailing outside of normal school hours. Salt Lake Crawlmeister Glen Warchol even points out that Fanjul used that means too excessively.

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