Teacher Cleared of Abuse Sees Suit Dismissed

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A U.S. District judge has dismissed a suit brought against the city and county by a former schoolteacher acquitted of molestation charges, said Thomas Feeley, an attorney for the city.

The former teacher, Frank Tozzolina Jr., 45, immediately filed a motion for a rehearing, contending the civil case should be heard by a jury and not be decided by the court.

Tozzolina filed the case in 1990, a year after he was found not guilty of child molestation charges involving children at Mariners Elementary School.

A 19-year-veteran with the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, Tozzolina was suspended with pay in 1988 after four of his fifth-grade students accused him of fondling them. The key evidence during the three-week trial was a note written by one of the girls outlining a conspiracy to get the teacher fired.

U.S. District Judge Gary Taylor's ruling in Los Angeles last week "was wrong because the ultimate fact has to be left to the jury," Tozzolina's attorney, Earnest Chen, said Friday. "There was a criminal prosecution initiated, and was it conducted with probable cause? That has to be decided by a jury."

Tozzolina's suit, which asked for $3 million in punitive damages, named Newport Beach, Orange County, William Evans, who was then supervisor of the county's Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Unit, and Deputy Dist. Atty. Kelly MacEachrean.

Tozzolina, who teaches adult classes in the county, had charged that county and city officials had purposefully overlooked evidence, including the note, to further their careers.

The defendants, however, claimed they had probable cause in performing their actions.

"We are pleased with the ruling in the case, and the ruling reflects that our investigation was as thorough and complete as possible," said Newport Beach Police spokesman Sgt. Andy Gonis.

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