School psychologist is cleared in pot case
May 19, 2008
Prosecutors have dropped all charges against a Lake Tahoe Unified School District psychologist accused of possessing marijuana, growing marijuana and child endangerment.
South Lake El Dorado Narcotics Enforcement Team (SLEDNET) agents arrested Cynthia Anne Norris, 33, and her domestic partner, Alexander Balestrero, 30, in January after the agents reportedly found 93 marijuana plants growing in the couple’s Christmas Valley home.
“She wasn’t involved,” Paul Palant, Norris’ attorney, said in an interview with the Tribune. “This grow was in a locked portion of the house.”
Norris said she was aware of the operation but believed it was legal under California medical marijuana law.
“I still believe (my husband) was in compliance with Proposition 215,” Norris told the Tribune. “He was a valid medical patient as well as a caregiver.”
On May 2, Judge Jerald M. Lasarow ordered Balestrero to serve 60 days in county jail and three years probation as part of an agreement where counts of marijuana cultivation and child endangerment were dropped in exchange for a no-contest plea to a single count of marijuana possession, according to court documents.
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Balestrero’s attorney, John Castellanos, was not available for comment on the case Monday.
The couple’s 13-year-old son was placed in the custody of El Dorado County Child Protective Services after the January arrest, but Norris said he has since been returned to her.
El Dorado County Deputy District Attorney Tony Sears agreed with Palant that there is not enough evidence to move forward with charges against the psychologist.
Although Sears said Monday that he did not have the court documents available to comment on the specifics of the case, he said Balestrero was out of compliance with medical marijuana laws.
“If he was doing things right, we wouldn’t have prosecuted,” Sears said.
Norris, a psychologist with LTUSD, now is on paid leave, but her contract with the district was not renewed by the school board in March.
Norris defended her job performance and believes the lack of a renewal was caused by the publicity surrounding her arrest and because there is “still a lot of discrimination against medical marijuana.”
“The concept of innocent until proven guilty doesn’t really hold,” Norris said. “Everybody looks at you like you’re guilty based on an arrest.”
A call to LTUSD Superintendent James Tarwater regarding the matter was returned by district Human Resources Director Beth Delacour.
Delacour confirmed Norris’ contract has not been renewed but declined to comment further.