Teacher Convicted of Possessing Child Pornography Allowed to Keep Pension

Ronald Garney was a ninth-grade science teacher and coach who worked for the Amherst-Pelham regional school district for more than 20 years.  Through an investigation conducted in 2004, the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement identified Garney as someone who had purchased child pornography from a website.  Local police later executed a search warrant at Garney’s apartment and found videos of child pornography as well as images of child pornography on Garney’s home computer.  Garney told the police he had been viewing child pornography for years and had joined child pornography websites.  The investigation revealed that Garney accessed and stored the illegal images on his home computer, paid for it with his own funds, and did not involve his students in any way in his illegal conduct.  Garney was indicted and ultimately pled guilty to 11 counts of purchasing and possessing child pornography in violation of Massachusetts law.  He was sentenced to jail, followed by probation, and ordered to register as a sex offender.

Garney resigned his position as a teacher and began to receive monthly pension payments.  The Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System (MTRS) attempted to block Garney from receiving his pension and Garney sued.  In an opinion delivered this week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the state’s pension forfeiture law did not apply to Garney and allowed him to keep his pension.

A Massachusetts statute allows for forfeiture of a public employee’s retirement benefits “after final conviction of a criminal offense involving violation of the laws applicable to [the employee’s] office or position.”  The question in this case was whether Garney’s private criminal conduct was sufficiently connected to his position as a teacher to forfeit his pension.  The SJC pointed out that the Legislature “did not intend pension forfeiture to follow as [an automatic consequence] of any and all criminal convictions.”  Here, there was no “direct link” between Garney’s crime and his job.  Therefore, the Court concluded, while Garney’s “reprehensible” conduct may have warranted his dismissal, it did not justify forfeiture of his pension.

The Boston Globe’s report on this case can be viewed here.