Court proceedings delayed for teachers accused of sex with minors

Court proceedings postponed for teachers who allegedly gave alcohol to minors at beach camping trip

The arraignment of two female teachers accused of having sex with male high school students during a beach camping trip at a San Clemente beach was postponed on Tuesday to March 4, an Orange County judge ruled.

Michelle Ghirelli, 30, of West Covina and Melody Lippert, 38, of Covina are each charged with one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor by illegally providing them with alcohol, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Proceedings were continued partly because prosecutors haven't turned over their investigation to attorneys, and partly because prosecutors may tack on additional charges against the pair, said Ghirelli's attorney Stephen DeSales.

He declined to comment on Ghirelli's case but previewed her defense: "There's always two sides to every story."

Lippert, a teacher at South Hills High School in West Covina, and Ghirelli, an employee at the Covina-Valley Unified School District, were arrested in January.

Orange County Sheriff’s Department investigators had suspected that the women had sex with the students during the trip, which was not endorsed by the school. But prosecutors said there was not enough evidence to file charges for that.

Susan Kang Schroeder, chief of staff for the district attorney’s office, told The Times that the teachers could still face charges if any other evidence surfaces that they had sexual relations with the students.

A student younger than 18 accused Ghirelli, who once taught at South Hills, of having sex during the camping trip, sheriff’s officials said.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Kristin Bracic told The Times that the sex between Ghirelli and the boy was not in dispute, but Ghirelli provided various reasons for why she thought the boy was 18.

Lippert organized the camping trip between Dec. 27 and Dec. 29 and sent a group message to Ghirelli and five students, prosecutors said.

During the trip, prosecutors said they distributed alcohol to the students.

Lippert and Ghirelli remain on paid administrative leave as the district investigates the allegations. If they are convicted, they face up to a year in jail.

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Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

3:36 p.m.: This story was updated to include the delay in the teachers' arraignment and comments from Ghirelli's attorney.

 

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