Norm Hodge, a 42-year-old social studies teacher and former girls’ basketball coach at the school, was charged Feb. 1 with two felony counts of sexual assault by an authority figure. He has resigned his job and is out of jail on $5,000 bond.
Under a law passed by legislators in 2010, an “authority figure” can be a teacher, administrator, parole officer, and hospital employee, among others.
The law says that if an authority figure has sex with someone under his or her supervision or discipline, it’s sexual assault, even if the sex is consensual and regardless of the victim’s age.
The law would not apply to a college professor who has sex with an adult student.
Georgia lawmakers passed the law, known as House Bill 571, after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that a teacher, who had consensual sex with a 16-year-old, could use consent as a defense.
In that case, Chase vs. the State, 28-year-old teacher Melissa Lee Chase at Harlem High School had a sexual relationship with a female junior at the school. The student was not in any of Chase’s classes. The student’s father knew about the relationship, while the student’s mother, who was separated from the father, did not know. She reported it to authorities.
Chase and her lawyers were not allowed to use consent as a defense in her trial, and she was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The Georgia Supreme Court overturned the conviction, saying that consent was indeed allowed.
That prompted lawmakers to change the law.
“The legislature, in 2010, came back and specifically said that (consent) shall not be a defense,” Walker County district attorney Herbert “Buzz” Franklin said.
“I think (legislators) wanted to draw a bright line and say we’re not going to tolerate these type of relationships,” Franklin said.
If the allegations against Hodge had involved a student (age 16 or over) from a different school, there would be no legal grounds for an arrest, since Hodge would not be considered an authority figure to that student, Franklin said. (In Georgia the age of sexual consent is 16. Having sex with anyone under age 16 carries a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison.)
According to Walker County sheriff Steve Wilson, Hodge had two sexual encounters, both consensual, with the 17-year-old student in December. The encounters occurred during the holiday break on private property, not on school property, according to authorities.
The charges against Hodge carry a one- to 25-year jail sentence and/or a fine up to $100,000. If convicted, Hodge would have to register as a sex offender, Wilson said.
Hodge, who is married, is a 1989 graduate of LaFayette High School in Walker County. After college, he became an assistant basketball and football coach at LaFayette High. After that, he briefly coached middle school basketball in Murray County. Then he became the assistant girls' basketball coach at Ridgeland High School in Walker County, where he took over the coaching position in May 2003. He then returned to LaFayette High and was an assistant girls' basketball coach during the 2011-12 school year. He also coached golf that year. He was not a coach this year.