Personnel files to be excluded from sex trial

June 03, 1995|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun Staff Writer

Jurors in the sex-abuse trial of former Catholic schoolteacher John J. Merzbacher won't be able to examine personnel records that showed the teacher received superior evaluations during at least part of the period when he is alleged to have raped and molested a female student.

M. Cristina Gutierrez, Mr. Merzbacher's lawyer, yesterday withdrew her bid to enter the evaluations into evidence after Judge Robert I. H. Hammerman said he would allow the Baltimore Circuit Court jury to see some, but not all, of the documents she had gathered from the personnel files through a subpoena.

The files stemmed from Mr. Merzbacher's years as a teacher at Catholic Community Middle School in South Baltimore from 1972 to 1979. Fourteen men and women, many of them former students, say he sexually abused them during that time.

Mr. Merzbacher, 53, is on trial in the first of the cases, in which the accuser is a 34-year-old Cockeysville woman who said he raped her repeatedly between 1972 and 1975.

In 1974, according to the records, the Catholic Community principal rated Mr. Merzbacher's performance as "superior," the

highest category, in the area of "concern for children." Another principal wrote of Mr. Merzbacher's "excellent rapport with students" and that he "established an ideal classroom atmosphere which motivates learning."

That praise is in sharp contrast with testimony by the 34-year-old woman and several fellow students, who said Mr. Merzbacher allowed students to do whatever they liked in class, sometimes while they drank and smoked marijuana. The students testified they didn't remember learning anything in Mr. Merzbacher's English class.

Yesterday, another former student, Joseph Allum, took the stand to paint a different picture of the teacher he called "Mr. John."

"If you wanted to loosen your sleeves and loosen your tie, that was about all you could do in there," Mr. Allum said. "I feel the man's innocent."

Under cross-examination he acknowledged that Mr. Merzbacher shared drinks with students on a few occasions. He said he recalled telling a newspaper reporter that he saw the alleged victim in the case sitting on Mr. Merzbacher's lap. But "I never seen the man do nothing to her, and that was it," he said.

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