The decision was handed down earlier this week by State Supreme Court judge Manuel J. Mendez. Mendez ordered the matter returned to the Education Department to impose a penalty less harsh than termination.
In October 2012, Damian Esteban, 34, was employed as a teacher at the Williamsburg High School for Architecture and Design in Brooklyn when he was summoned for jury duty. Esteban was sitting on a jury in a murder trial and when entering the Manhattan Criminal Court after a break, a routine search turned up heroin contained in a cigarette package in his backpack.
Esteban was kicked off the jury and was charged with misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance. The charge was later withdrawn after Esteban took a one-day treatment program.
In May, an arbitrator ruled the teacher, who earned $64,500 a year, should be terminated. Esteban had argued he grabbed the wrong backpack when he went to court and had no intention of bringing drugs to the courthouse. He also said he became addicted to heroin after taking it for pain caused by an ankle injury.
The arbitrator said
, "If the respondent's testimony is truthful, his handling of heroin was consistently cavalier, careless and irresponsible. This recklessness creates an unacceptable and ongoing level of risk for the department and the students for whom it is responsible."
The arbitrator also found Esteban remaining as a teacher opened up the school system to ridicule with people wondering if he brought dangerous drugs to school.
Esteban appealed. In his decision, Mendez described the firing as "excessive and shocking to this court's sense of fairness." Mendez said
, " The arrest was not for conduct at the school site, or involving any of its students. There is no evidence that he has a criminal record, has been arrested before or since this one incident. There is no evidence that this one arrest or the publicity it's generated has impaired his ability to teach or that he has lost the respect of his students."
Mendez also said when the matter goes back to the Education Department, the arbitrator should impose a period of suspension without pay.
The city was not pleased. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said
, "We could not more strongly disagree with the judge's decision. That truly shocks the conscience and boggles the mind..."
The city plans to appeal the decision.