MODESTO — A judge on Wednesday denied a motion to dismiss a felony charge against a former Modesto teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl 14 years ago.
James Hooker, 42, of Modesto is charged with one count of committing oral copulation with a person younger than 18, stemming from the alleged incident in the summer of 1998.
Now a 31-year-old woman, the alleged victim testified in Hooker's October preliminary hearing that the defendant performed oral sex on her at his mother's rural house near Turlock.
On Wednesday, Mary Lynn Belsher, Hooker's defense attorney, argued that the alleged victim told a counselor about the sexual misconduct in 1998, which means the statute of limitations had run out by the time prosecutors filed the criminal charge last year.
She said the counselor never notified authorities and nothing was done until 2012, when the alleged victim saw a news story about Hooker's affair with another high school student.
"The complaining witness saw something on TV, and here we are," Belsher told the judge.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden disagreed with Belsher's argument. The judge said a state law was in effect before the 1998 alleged incident, essentially making Hooker criminally liable for the rest of his life. "It's similar to murder, not having a statute of limitations," McFadden told Belsher.
The judge said state law allows a criminal complaint to be filed up to a year after the incident was reported to police, but the alleged crime must be substantial sexual misconduct involving a minor. She said the claim must have clear and convincing corroborating evidence.
Belsher cited a section of the state law that requires authorities to file criminal charges within three years after an alleged sex crime against a child has been reported to a responsible adult, which she said was the counselor in this case.
The judge said the prosecution used another section of the law to charge Hooker. McFadden said that section of the law was designed to allow victims to report a substantial sex crime 30 or even 40 years later, even when a responsible adult failed to notify authorities before.
Hooker gained national attention last year when he left his wife and three daughters and quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School to move in with an 18-year-old former student, Jordan Powers.