Attorney discusses Hilton principal on paid leave, hired after criminal offense

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HILTON, N.Y. (WROC) – Northwood Elementary School Principal Kirk Ashton is currently on paid administrative leave after allegations that he sexually abused nine students. 

The Hilton School District said Ashton will remain on administrative leave until the investigation is complete. 

News 8 spoke to an area attorney about the legality of being put on paid leave while facing such serious allegations. 

Attorney Michael Burger explains it comes down to innocent until proven guilty.

 “At this point the principal is presumed innocent. That means that we need to treat him the way we would treat somebody who we loved and believed in,” Burger said. 

While this might not be easy for parents of students at Northwood Elementary, experts say it’s part of a system called due process, which is essentially the legal requirement of fair treatment through the judicial system. 

For Ashton, Burger says due process will have civil and criminal components. 

“On the criminal side you have the presumption of innocence and the need for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. On the civil side or administrative side, which I think is what you’re referring to here where the principal might have his license questioned, the Department of Education would be the ones to bring that proceeding,” Burger said. “It would be administrative, and he’d have the right to hear the evidence against him and amount to defense before he’s found to have engaged in actions that forfeit his license or allow the Department of Education to revoke his license.” 

Burger explains that Ashton still could still be removed as principal without being convicted because there are different standards of proof.  

“To be convicted of a crime you have to be proven to have committed that crime beyond a reasonable doubt, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the principal would have the right not to testify and the prosecution would have to make their case,” Burger said. “But on the civil side, he could be shown by a preponderance of the evidence to have engaged in conduct that justifies ramification of his teaching license.”

Burger says the trial of OJ Simpson is a good example because Simpson was acquitted criminally but he was found liable civilly.

The attorney also talked about Ashton being hired by the Hilton School District after a misdemeanor DWI in 1998. He was hired by the district in 2004.

“Our conduct outside of our jobs is often separate and often regarded as separate by our employers,” Burger said. “People might struggle in different ways in their private life but still perform well in their jobs and in their public life.”

In fact, Burger says there are actually laws that prevent employers from discriminating against people for being convicted of a crime. 

“When you’re convicted, there’s a sentence and you pay your debt to society and generally you can move forward and continue on with your life,” Burger said.

He says there are exceptions where you could be convicted and lose your license, but there are ways to avoid future ramifications. “Such as a certificate of relief form civil disabilities or certificate of good conduct, and those measures can allow somebody who’s involved with the law to regain their place in society,” Burger said.

Ashton was also convicted for a felony DWI in 2007, while principal of Northwood.

The Hilton Central School District tells News 8:

“A felony DWI does not automatically preclude someone from employment in public education.  The superintendent can’t comment specifically as this occurred before his time in Hilton.”

Ashton is currently facing nine counts of endangering the welfare of a child, six counts of sex abuse in the first degree and five counts of sexual conduct against at child in the second degree. He is currently being held in the Niagara County Jail.

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