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DA drops all charges against former teacher
Michael Berchtold working on getting back to teaching
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That is the final verdict in the sexual molestation case that has dogged former Joseph Widmer Elementary School teacher Michael Berchtold for nearly three years.

All of the remaining misdemeanor charges related to the complaint filed against the former third-grade teacher were dropped by the San Joaquin County District Attorney on Monday.

Berchtold’s lawyer, Patrick Ewing Clancy said all charges were “dismissed in the interest of justice.

“This is it. It’s over. He’s very happy,” said Clancy of his client.

In October, a San Joaquin County Superior Court jury found the former third-grade teacher not guilty of all the felony charges of lewd acts upon a minor under the age of 14 in the complaint filed against him three years ago which involved three alleged female victims. However, the jury was hung – 10-2 – on the six misdemeanors with the majority of the jurors voting not guilty, leaving the District Attorney to make the final decision, which is what happened on Monday.

Being cleared of all the charges “means several things” to his client, said the Pleasanton attorney who is the founder of the Innocence Legal Team.

“The first thing is, teachers have an insurance policy which helps them pay for attorney’s fees, but only if they’re found innocent,” Clancy said.

With the final decision by the District Attorney in his favor, Berchtold is now able obtain the $40,000 reimbursement for his attorney’s fees.

The second thing is that Berchtold is now eligible to apply to get back his teacher’s certificate and get reinstated to his old job. That process will be taken up with the assistance of the California Teachers’ Association. Clancy said the process was actually started immediately after the hearing in Stockton on Monday.

“He’ll be in a position to request for reinstatement in the school district after getting his credentials back,” said Clancy.

Manteca Unified Assistant Superintendent of Personnel Services Don Halseth said Monday that a teacher’s credential is automatically suspended “when this kind of thing happens.”

Halseth said he was “not at liberty to talk” about Berchtold’s reinstatement to his old job because “I haven’t heard officially from the District Attorney’s office,” adding he has not “talked to Mr. Berchtold at all since this happened.”

The Bulletin was unable to reach Berchtold for comment as of press time.

However, Clancy said that the trial has affected his client “very much emotionally” as can be expected.

But, Clancy added, “he seems to be doing quite well.”

One thing that impressed the attorney about Berchtold from their initial interview was that “he was very much consistent in his innocence.”

Even when he was offered a plea deal, Berchtold did not take it, Clancy said.

He said he thought they were going to win the case but that he could not guarantee it, and that’s the reason he got a motion to get a plea done.

“It’s unreal, the support he had from other teachers and (school) administrators” during the trial, said Clancy.

He said nearly 50 people testified – parents, teachers, maintenance personnel, and former students – who appeared at the court hearings to provide their “opinion to his character.” They testified about walking into his classroom unannounced, and that the room was “wide open all the time – no cubbyholes, no clothes closet – and that “nobody ever saw anything inappropriate” happen.

“We had many, many teachers testify,” Clancy said.

He said he also “used prosecution witnesses” during the trial, and those witnesses for the prosecution ended up turning against each other.

Clancy described his client at “a funny guy and very pleasant to be with.”

Added Clancy amusingly, “It’s interesting to see where he comes from. By that, I mean, he lives in a farm house. He’s got goats in his front yard and a horse and all sorts of things.”

Second trial in court was the charm for Berchtold

The trial which culminated on Monday with all charges dropped was Berchtold’s second court trial. He won a second trial in January when a Superior Court Judge ruled to set aside the former teacher’s guilty plea in the first trial after Clancy proved to the judge that Berchtold’s former lawyer “failed to advise him” of the defense in the case. The judge also agreed for the new trial to before a jury panel.

Berchtold pleaded guilty in July of 2009 to one count of lewd acts involving a minor in return for having all the other charges dropped under a plea deal made with the prosecutors.

Berchtold was a third-grade teacher at Joseph Widmer Elementary in Lathrop when the allegations were made by the parents of the three alleged female victims who, according to the  San Joaquin County Sheriff’s investigators, were between the ages of eight and nine at the time of the alleged incidents.

After Berchtold turned himself in to the Sheriff’s authorities, he was booked in the county jail in French Camp, where he lives, with bail set at $225,000.

His supporters and those who believed in his innocence pooled their money and raised the amount that was needed to get him released from jail. The donors, who all had to personally appear at the Sheriff’s Office in French Camp for their money to be accepted as part of the bail, included young teen-agers who were his former students and senior citizens who knew the former teacher’s family.

Berchtold was 32 years old at the time of his arrest, with seven years under his belt as a teacher in Manteca Unified, all of which were spent teaching at Widmer School. Following his arrest, he was placed initially on administrative leave with pay. He was terminated from his job as the investigation continued. In addition to being a teacher, Berchtold was also described as “very active” in Lathrop youth programs as well as in “youth sports and church youth programs.”