By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer
---- — DES MOINES — The Iowa Supreme Court has reversed the conviction of a Davis County coach who had sex with a 16-year-old student and ordered the charges dismissed.
Patrick Ryan Nicoletto was an assistant coach for the Davis County girls’ basketball team during the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 seasons. He also coached the freshman team.
During his employment, Nicoletto began exchanging text messages with a student identified only as S.L. The relationship eventually became sexual, with both parties taking steps to conceal the relationship. The school’s principal eventually suspected something was going on, though Nicoletto denied it. He broke off the relationship after being confronted.
Eventually authorities learned of the relationship. Nicoletto was charged with sexual exploitation by a school employee and was convicted by a jury. He appealed, saying his position did not meet the legal definition for school employee as used in the Iowa Code.
The law defines a school employee as “an administrator, teacher, or other licensed professional, including an individual who holds a statement of professional recognition, who provides educational assistance to students.”
Critically, Nicoletto was never hired as a teacher, nor did he receive a teaching certificate. Instead, to meet the requirements of his contract, Nicoletto obtained a coaching authorization. That distinction led five of the seven justices to reverse the conviction.
Justice Brent Appel wrote the majority opinion.
“Although a coach who holds a teaching or other professional license is clearly subject to prosecution … a person who coaches merely pursuant to a coaching authorization but who is not also a ‘licensed professional,’ ‘teacher,’ or ‘administrator’ within the meaning of section 272.1(7) is not subject to prosecution,” under the law prosecutors cited, wrote Appel. “We therefore reverse the jury’s verdict and remand the case for the district court to dismiss the charges against Nicoletto.”
The verdict was not unanimous. Justice Thomas Waterman dissented, with Justice Edward Mansfield joining.
Waterman concluded Nicoletto was a school employee, saying that concluding otherwise defied common sense. He called the majority ruling “hypertechnical,” and said a coaching authorization equates to a license, thus bringing Nicoletto within the legal requirements for conviction.
“The majority plays a linguistic shell game to get its result,” wrote Waterman.