The county District Attorney has asked the judge to make a decision on whether a school director-elect can take his seat.
Tioga County District Attorney Krista Deats issued an announcement that she had filed a Writ of Quo Warranto Tuesday morning, Nov. 23, requesting the judge to order Noyes Lawton to relinquish and vacate his position on the Wellsboro Area School District board of directors.
Lawton is one of four people elected to serve a four-year term on the WASD board.
In 2001, Lawton pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of endangering the welfare of children, corruption of minors and driving under the influence. While employed as a child care worker with Laurel Youth Services, Lawton had sex with a 17-year-old female in the institution, impregnating her. He served time in prison for the charges.
According to Deats, the complaint consists of the history of Lawton’s 2001 convictions and the elements of those crimes. The complaint then briefly explains why the DA believes these misdemeanors relate to crimes of “moral turpitude,” which is defined as “a quality of dishonesty or other immorality that is determined by a court to be present in the commission of a criminal offense.”
The higher courts in Pennsylvania have ruled that in a complaint such as this, the judge must determine whether or not the crimes involve “moral turpitude” solely on the elements of the crime charged, and the definition or their interpretation of “moral turpitude.”
The determination of whether a crime of which the defendant has been convicted involves moral turpitude, and thereby warrants relinquishment of said office, turns on the element of the crime, not on the independent examination of the details of the behavior underlying the crime, said Deats, referring to case law of Garner v. Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, State Bd. of Optometry, 97 A.3d 437 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2014).
The Wellsboro school board reorganizes on Dec. 2. The complaint filed Tuesday is a civil complaint, so Lawton has 20 days to respond. The judge will decide whether to order Lawton relinquish his seat or schedule the matter for a hearing.