BY STACI WILSON
The trial of a former Montrose teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student and secretly recording conversations with school officials got underway Monday in Susquehanna County Court.
Sexual assault and wiretapping charges against Jeffrey David Norris, 31, of Montrose were first lodged by police in June 2009. Witness intimidation charges were brought against him in August 2009 following an incident that allegedly occurred outside of a church in Montrose.
The trial in front of Judge Raymond Hamill, of Wayne County, began with jury selection Monday morning. The trial is expected to last about four days.
Susquehanna County President Judge Kenneth Seamans and District Attorney Jason Legg recused themselves from the case. The accused is the son of local attorney, Jeffrey Norris, who also presides over domestic relations cases for the court.
“This case is about a young lady,” said John Flannery, deputy prosecutor in the state attorney general’s office.
Flannery outlined the prosecution’s case for the jury.
He said the alleged victim was a ninth grade student in Norris’ English class in 2006-07 and the defendant developed a relationship with the girl who was age 14 at the time.
Flannery said the friendship between the teacher and his pupil grew until he invited her to his home after school hours.
It was at his home, Flannery told the jury, that Norris and the teen first engaged in intercourse – and that sexual relations occurred on two other occasions.
Flannery also spoke about the wiretapping counts lodged against Norris.
Cassette recordings were found by police during a search of the Norris residence, Flannery said.
On those tapes, the prosecutor said, were conversations between Norris and several school administrators.
Defense Attorney Paul Ackourey painted a different picture of the alleged victim for the jury.
He said his client’s accuser was a “very troubled young woman.”
Ackourey said that she had developed a crush on him while he was her teacher and told her classmates that the two were dating.
Rumors began circulating through the high school, Ackourey told the jury. Members of the school administration became aware of those rumors, he said, and both Norris and the girl were questioned.
Both denied any relationship, Ackourey said. Norris then quit speaking to her outside of class which angered the girl, the defense attorney said.
He also said the victim was placed on probation under the supervision of Sami Bourizk, a Susquehanna County juvenile probation officer. Bourizk was recently terminated by Judge Seamans from his position.
Ackourey told the jury that Bourizk and Norris had a strained relationship at the time of the alleged incidents because the two had competed for a coaching position.
Following the attorneys’ opening remarks, the victim, now age 20, was called to the stand.
She admitted she liked the extra attention she received from Norris at school and said she developed a crush on him.
She told the court that she felt “special” when Norris invited her to his house.
The victim testified that she had sex on that occasion with Norris; and on one other occasion at his home.
She also said Norris had sex with her in June 2007 in bushes behind a concession stand during an all-night softball tournament in South Montrose.
On the stand, the victim described how the relationship with Norris developed and the impact that relationship has had on her.
After detailing the August 2009 incident, she said, “Now I see what he did to me and how it ruined my whole high school career,” she told the court.
On cross examination, the defense attorney called attention to points of the victim’s testimony that differed from that which she gave on direct examination on Monday.
Cross examination of the witness is expected to resume Tuesday morning.
Prior to reconvening court after the final afternoon break, Judge Hamill admonished those seated in the gallery of the courtroom.
“This case is emotionally charged enough,” said the judge. He warned attendees to not approach any of the witnesses, jurors or step into the bar area of the courtroom, reserved for court personnel only.