Hoffner case has been one head-scratching decision after another

Minnesota State, Mankato football coach Todd Hoffner speaks to reporters as his wife, Melodee, right, attorneys Jim Fleming, left, and Gerald Maschka, second left, listen, Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, in Mankato, Minn. AP Photo/The Mankato Free Press, Jim Cross

That Todd Hoffner has decided to take his old Minnesota State Mankato football job back shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed the story since he was accused of child pornography for using his state-owned cellphone to take bath time videos of his children. Everything about the case has been a head-scratcher from the start.

Hoffner’s announcement today comes after an arbitrator ruled that the football coach was wrongly suspended, then fired.

That much was clear the minute that Judge Krista Jass looked at the video and threw the case out in the fall of 2012.

“It is private, family speech of a most uniquely personal kind which the state can neither inhibit nor sanction,” she ruled.

It could’ve ended there, but it didn’t. Nobody ever said to Hoffner, “we’re sorry,” which perpetuated the belief that there had to be more to the story than anyone was being told.

Two investigations of Hoffner were conducted and no one not connected to the case was allowed to see the results.

If there was anything in the investigation that would have exonerated the coach in the court of public opinion, Hoffner himself didn’t want anyone to see it. He had the right to ask that the records in the case be sealed, and that’s exactly what a judge ordered.

“Where the only basis for police action against a parent is the misconception of that parent’s speech or activity protected by the First Amendment, it is difficult to conceive of a more chilling effect on the full expression and utilization of that parent’s First Amendment rights that the government’s intrusion into the private realm of the family home, its rummaging through the family’s personal effects, and its exposure of all that is discovered to the public eye,” Jass ruled in sealing the records. “The Constitution does not permit such collateral burdens on protected expression.”

Jass also chided the news media and said it should be working harder to protect the rights of the accused.

But the media wasn’t just interested in the accused. It wanted to figure out what the school and local prosecutors were thinking when they filed the charges in the first place, and then didn’t treat Hoffner like the innocent man the system determined he is.

“Without some access to the investigative records, I think answering that question becomes extremely difficult,” Mark Anfinson, the attorney who represented The Free Press of Mankato, said after Jass’ decision last spring. “It’s a pretty big deal in terms of the public’s interest when law enforcement agencies misfire like they apparently did here.”

When the arbitrator ruled Hoffner’s dismissal was wrong, we got a better peek at what was going on, but the questions only grew.

The Mankato Free Press reported:

Hoffner didn’t even deserve an oral reprimand in that case because he hadn’t violated any university policies, Wallin said. There were no rules against taking pictures with the phone, unless it was for illegal purposes. Jass had ruled the videos weren’t illegal and the photos of the man also were “benign” because they weren’t focused on genitals and they were so blurry Wallin couldn’t tell if they were the same man.

Now, Hoffner is back. And so are all the questions. It’s a big deal again.

Ironically, the one institution that actually extended the benefit of the doubt to Hoffner, is the one that Hoffner stiffed today when he quit as coach of Minot State’s football team. The school had only hired him in January.

“Two years ago, I sat in a jail cell overnight in an orange jumpsuit wondering, ‘Why?’ First there was shock, then there was fear, then there was anger and ultimately I pulled myself together to work towards a result, and that’s where we are today,” he said today.

He’ll start work at the school that clearly doesn’t want him tomorrow.