CHEROKEE COUNTY, Ga. — The Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction of a former high school coach who had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student.
Robert Leslie Morrow, 27, was a paraprofessional and wrestling coach at River Ridge High School when he began having a sexual relationship with the sophomore student in December 2011.
Morrow was later convicted on one count of sexual assault under a Georgia code that prohibits teachers, principals and other administrators from engaging in sexual conduct with students.
He was given a 10-year sentence on probation with specialized sex-offender conditions, a $1,500 fine and 240 days in a detention center.
This week, the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling, saying that Morrow was not a teacher, but a paraprofessional, so the statute doesn’t apply to him.
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Morrow’s attorney, Bryan Lumpkin, said Morrow should never have been charged in the first place for what Lumpkin described as a consensual sexual relationship with the student. The age of consent in Georgia is 16.
“He had no supervisory or disciplinary authority over her. He simply was working at the school she attended,” Lumpkin said. "He is not a sex offender, never had been one, and won't be required to register as one.”
Lumpkin told Channel 2’s Tom Regan that he doesn’t think the ruling will open the floodgates to appeals in similar cases of school employees accused of sex crimes.
“To the extent that there may be a few cases here and there where paraprofessionals have been charged, then yeah, I anticipate that this will make very clear that those folks cannot be charged under this code section,” Lumpkin said.
The district attorney said she does not plan to appeal the decision, which she called disappointing. She said she hopes the legislature will refine the law to include paraprofessionals.
The Supreme Court did address that in a footnote, saying, "If the General Assembly desires to expand the scope of § 16-5-5.1 to include paraprofessionals (or other school employees such as bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and janitors), it certainly may do so by defining the persons to whom the statute applies in broader terms. But the statute currently applies only to teachers, principals, assistant principals, and other administrators, and this Court cannot judicially rewrite the statute."
Cox Media Group