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Brother says former city teacher is 'being railroaded'

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 27. 2014 8:17PM
Martine Gambale, a former teacher at McLaughlin Middle School in Manchester, sits with her public defender, Robert Swales, at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Thursday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — Waiting with about a dozen other supporters of former city special education teacher Martine M. Gambale for her sentencing hearing to begin Thursday, Gambale’s brother claimed the Manchester School District is “trying to throw her under the big yellow bus.”

“She’s being railroaded by the school district. They are basically throwing her under the bus,” said Rene Laureyns, who traveled here from Palmira, N.J., to speak on his sister’s behalf at her what was supposed to be a plea and sentencing hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court.

Gambale is charged with assaulting two male special education students and tying up a third on separate occasions between September, 2011 and March, 2012 while she worked at McLaughlin Middle School.

After meeting with defense and prosecuting attorneys for 70 minutes in chambers, Judge David A. Garfunkel briefly took the bench to inform the victims’ families and Gambale’s family and friends that both sides agreed to continue the hearing “to address matters that have been raised.”

Neither Garfunkel nor defense or prosecuting attorneys would elaborate.

But those with an interest in the case or associated with the parties involved privately said the victims’ families objected to the negotiated plea agreement Gambale, 56, of Hillsborough reached with the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office Jan. 9 less than two weeks before her case was scheduled to go to trial.

Under the fully negotiated plea, Gambale planned to plead guilty to simple assault and false imprisonment charges in exchange for two 1-year sentences at Hillsborough County House of Corrections — all suspended for 10 years provided she remain on good behavior.

She also would have to surrender her teaching certificates, undergo counseling and restrict contact with children and people with disabilities, court records show.

The plea agreement is a recommendation to the court. It would be up to Judge Garfunkel to accept it.

Court-appointed public defender Robert P. Swales said he has until March 7 to let the court know how he and his client intend to proceed. Swales said if there is no plea agreement, the case would go to trial.

“I have no comment. I would really love to talk. Thank you,” Gambale said after the hearing.

She was indicted Aug. 17, 2012 on three charges — all Class A misdemeanors which typically are handled at the district court level and carry a maximum penalty of one-year jail time. But prosecutors brought Gambale’s case before a grand jury and sought expanded penalties of 2 to 5 years imprisonment since the alleged victims were under 13 years old.

Gambale is accused of shoving an 11-year-old student, then dragging him down a hallway by his wrist; pushing a 12-year-old boy toward a gym wall; and tying another 12-year-old to a chair while in class.

“She didn’t have proper aides when the three incidents took place,” Laureyns said.

“What my sister can do to keep children calm, collected and controlled is amazing,” he added. Her supporters included a parent of a former student, her sister, Ginette Healy of Nyack, N.Y., her boyfriend, and Deacon James Rock of St. Theresa Catholic Church in Henniker.

Laureyns claimed his sister is “being railroaded” by three teachers who were called out of their classrooms to serve as aides to help Gambale.

He questioned why the three “circumvented the entire school system” and went to police six months later. He also questioned what he claimed were lack of medical records to support the alleged assaults.

“These three teachers who came forward as witnesses, they were friends ... and wanted to get rid of her (Gambale),” Laureyns said.

Gambale worked as a special education teacher at McLaughlin Middle School at least since 2008.

Gambale went on paid administrative leave in April 2012 when the accusations first came to school administrators’ attention. Her employment with the Manchester School District ended at the close of the 2012-2013 academic year, Matthew H. Upton, the school district’s attorney, has said.

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