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Knodel comments on state request for dismissal

WEST FARGO, N.D. -- Instead of preparing for a second trial, Aaron Knodel, the teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student, will be celebrating Father's Day with a sigh of relief.

The 2014 North Dakota Teacher of the year was relieved and happy prosecutors "finally did the right thing" by filing Thursday to dismiss the remaining two charges, said defense attorney Robert Hoy, who expects the judge to rule on the dismissal before Tuesday, when a second trial was scheduled to begin.

"This is indeed going to be a happy Father's Day in his household," Hoy said at a Friday news conference at his West Fargo office.

To ensure Knodel is no longer under the weight of the nearly yearlong investigation and court proceedings, Hoy filed a response Friday in Cass County District Court to address concerns over whether the prosecution will re-charge Knodel in the future.

"We certainly agree that the remaining two counts should be dismissed. No qualm with that," Hoy said. "They sought to dismiss them without prejudice, which is sort of legal talk for 'we reserve the right to maybe re-charge it again at some point,' and we're concerned about that."

If the judge rules in Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Byers' favor, Byers could recharge Knodel if new evidence is found before the statute of limitations expires in March 2016. Knodel was accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old student in 2009.

In Thursday's motion, Byers blamed setbacks in the case on defense attorney Robert Hoy's insistence on "trying the case in the media" and criticized McCullough for calling the state's case "weak" in court documents where the media would report it.

When asked about the strong language in Byers' motion for dismissal, Liz Brocker, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, said the court documents speak for themselves.

Hoy said it's the first time he's ever seen a prosecutor scold the media and judge in a dismissal request. He also responded to the criticisms in his filing on Friday.

"The state seeks to blame the news media, the judge, defense counsel, online bloggers, and the general public for their predicament," Hoy wrote. "The reality is that the State's case is weak and, as the jury declared seven weeks ago, Knodel is not guilty of the charges brought against him. Accordingly, the state should have dismissed the remaining charges sooner, before additional time and expense were incurred preparing for a second trial."

Hoy said he hasn't spoken to, nor does he represent Knodel in the matter of his employment with the West Fargo school district, but said he anticipates Knodel would return to work.

"I would not be surprised if he would be seeking to be rehired," Hoy said. "He's been acquitted, or had the charges dropped."

Attorney Michael Geiermann, who will represent Knodel in civil proceedings, did not return phone messages left Friday at his office.

Knodel was placed on paid administrative leave in February 2014 when the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension began its investigation. The West Fargo School Board suspended Knodel without pay after he was formally charged in August with with three Class C felony counts of corruption or solicitation of a minor and two Class B felony counts of corruption of a minor.

After a five-day trial in April, McCullough on June 4 upheld a jury's three not-guilty verdicts and declared a mistrial of the two remaining charges.

The state licensing board has taken no action on Knodel's license. The director of the Education Standards and Practices Board was unavailable for comment on Friday.

Wendy Reuer

Wendy reports for The Forum and West Fargo Pioneer, where she is also assistant editor. A University of Minnesota Morris graduate from North Dakota, Wendy started her career in television news and entertainment in Minnesota and and at CBS Television City, Calif. before working at newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota. 

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