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Teacher convicted of child porn charges can keep pension

The state’s highest court has decided that a former high school teacher who was convicted of child pornography charges can keep his retirement benefits.

In a ruling Monday, the Supreme Judicial Court said that Ronald T. Garney, a ninth-grade science teacher who was arrested in 2006 on purchase and possession of child pornography charges, should still receive retirements benefits because his crimes were not connected to his former job.

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“Although cognizant of the severity of the offenses of which Garney was convicted, we conclude that on the specific facts of this case, those offenses neither directly involved his position as a teacher nor contravened a particular law applicable to that position,” wrote Justice Robert J. Cordy.

Garney, who for 20 years was a teacher in the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District, pleaded guilty in December 2007 to purchasing and possessing child pornography after authorities found images of child pornography on his home computer, along with videos.

Garney admitted to viewing child pornography since at least 1994.

He was sentenced to 2½ to three years in a house of correction and ordered to register as a sex offender.

In August 2007, when he reached retirement age, Garney filed a retirement application with the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System, which gave him benefits until 2009; the board decided that because of his crimes, Garney had forfeited his rights to the benefits.

The board determined there was “a direct link between Mr. Garney’s employment and his possession of child pornography” because Garney used an e-mail address issued by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to access online pornography.

The board argued there was a direct link “because the position of a teacher is one that holds a special public trust, and Garney’s criminal conduct of possessing child pornography strikes at the ‘heart’ of this position by violating one of its ‘fundamental tenets,’ as embodied in the professional standards for teachers,” Cordy wrote, summing up the board’s argument.

But the justices of the SJC found that the use of the e-mail address was the only connection between Garney’s crimes and his position at the school. Garney used and stored the pornography on his own computer, purchased it with his own money, and did not possess or look at any images of his students, Cordy wrote.

“Private possession of child pornography by a secondary school teacher does not directly contravene this central function where there is no indication that this possession compromised the safety, welfare, or learning of the children whom he was tasked with teaching or impeded his ability to provide adequate educational lessons to his students,” Cordy wrote.

“As reprehensible as Garney’s crimes may be, the entirely private nature of his conduct does not call into question the effectiveness of the educational system of the Commonwealth.”

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.
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