A Connecticut Superior Court recently issued a decision concerning the admissibility of text messages in an administrative hearing. Plaintiff Todd Gagliardi, a former high school teacher, challenged the decision of the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) to place his name on DCF’s Abuse and Neglect Registry, following the discovery of text messages of a sexual nature between him and a student.
Following DCF’s decision to place his name on the Registry, Gagliardi filed an administrative appeal, arguing that the hearing officer improperly admitted and considered the text messages as evidence. In his appeal, he argued that the text messages were sent by someone pretending to be him, that no evidence was admitted concerning his cell phone account, and that no corroborating evidence was presented of a relationship between him and the student.
In Gagliardi v. Department of Children and Families, the court relied on existing law and precedent that an administrative tribunal may consider hearsay evidence that would not have been authenticated under the Code of Evidence. In rejecting the plaintiff’s argument, the court held that “as long the evidence is reliable, probative, material, and not unduly repetitious, it may be admitted.”
In reviewing the text messages, the court found that the content of the text messages was sufficient to authenticate the plaintiff as the sender. While authentication “is a necessary preliminary step” to the admission of most writings into evidence, authentication is not on par with evidentiary rules that govern admissibility. In short, a review of the actual text messages was sufficient for the hearing officer to authenticate the messages as being sent by the plaintiff, and to admit the messages into evidence.
This reinforcement by the court of the more relaxed evidentiary standard in the administrative setting concerning the admissibility of evidence is a guide to boards of education conducting administrative hearings. In particular, school districts will undoubtedly be facing the issue of the admissibility of text messages in hearings concerning staff and students in the coming years.