NORTHFIELD — A judge on Friday adjourned the trial of a former Linwood teacher charged with simple assault of a student a year ago and granted a continuance for at least 30 days.
The trial of Belhaven Middle School music teacher Kimberly Peschi had been scheduled to proceed Friday in municipal court in Northfield before Judge Timothy Maguire. Peschi’s attorney, Robert Agre, began the hearing requesting Maguire declare a mistrial on the basis that the state, represented by Atlantic County Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy, planned to call a witness at the day’s proceedings who had been unnamed to the defense until earlier this week.
Agre said he was informed of the witness, Belhaven Principal Susan Speirs, via email Wednesday and it did not afford him time to interview her.
Peschi pleaded not guilty to simple assault and neglect in March 2017 in relation to a Feb. 9, 2017, incident in the Belhaven cafeteria in which a sixth-grade student fell to the ground allegedly after Peschi’s foot came in contact with his chair.
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Agre told Maguire his private investigator, Cliff Goldsmith of Marlton, had the opportunity to speak with the other witnesses who were expected to testify but did not have the chance to speak with Speirs. Agre said that put his client at a disadvantage.
Agre also argued the testimony of the new witness could change the questions asked of two witnesses who have already testified before the court. Ashley Popa and Lauren Muffley were employed by the Linwood School District as lunchroom monitors when the alleged incident occurred and the student fell and struck his head on the floor. Both Popa and Muffley have already testified.
Maguire said he would permit re-examination of Popa and Muffley if Agre felt it necessary, but he said he would not permit re-examination of any of the Belhaven students who have been called upon to testify.
Levy said the records are not voluminous and suggested for convenience sake the defense speak with Speirs, who was present in the courtroom Friday.
In explaining his reasoning for granting the adjournment, Maguire said, “The rights of the defense will always trump convenience.”
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He said any papers that were not received are a mistake, adding there was nothing underhanded or nefarious and he would not declare a mistrial.
“I will give the defense as much time as they need to investigate any new witness,” said the judge. He added should the documents received change the information the investigator has in relation to Popa and Muffley, the defense will be permitted to recall them.
The judge directed Municipal Court Clerk Donna Clark to work with both Levy and Agre to find a suitable date to proceed with Peschi’s trial, adding he hoped it would be within 30 days but that if the defense requests more than 30 days he would review that request liberally.