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March jury trial for teacher facing molestation charges

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POSTED January 13, 2009 1:21 a.m.

STOCKTON — Pre-trial hearings will be held on Jan. 21 and March 19 for embattled Manteca Unified School District teacher Michael Berchtold who is being charged with sexual molestation charges involving minors.

The first pretrial hearing will be held at 1:30 p.m., with the second one in March scheduled for 8:30 a.m.

Following those pretrial hearings will be the two-week jury trial starting on March 27 at the San Joaquin County Superior Court in Stockton.

Berchtold is charged with two counts of lewd or lascivious acts on a child under the age of 14 and three counts of annoying or molesting a child which allegedly took place at Joseph Widmer, Jr. Elementary School in Lathrop where he was a third-grade teacher. The investigation was undertaken by the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office through the Lathrop Police Services and allegedly involved four female victims between the ages of eight and nine. The charges involve two counts of lewd or lascivious acts with a child under 14 years old and three counts of annoying or molesting a child. The four alleged victims were reportedly enrolled at Widmer School at the time of the alleged incidents.

At the time of his arrest, the French Camp resident had been a teacher with Manteca Unified for seven years.

After his arrest and subsequent release after posting bail, the 32-year-old Berchtold was placed on administrative leave with pay. Later, he was placed on leave without pay with that ruling still in effect as he goes to trial.

Berchtold’s release from jail following his arrest was made possible by the concerted effort of family, relatives, friends and parents of former students who pooled their money together to come up with the $225,000 needed for his bail. Among his supporters were Angela Chu and his daughter Megan, a former student of Berchtold who is now a student at Lathrop High School. When the Chus heard the news about the teacher’s arrest, Megan started a petition seeking a “fair trial” for Berchtold.

Officials with the school district said the allegations came to light on the last day of the school in June last year. Following the revelation of those allegations, the district initiated an investigation then scheduled meetings with the parents the following week. But before any of those meetings could take place, Lathrop deputies (city cops are deputies with the Sheriff’s Office which contracts its police services with Lathrop) took over the investigation based on information they had about the allegations..

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