Modesto teacher takes plea deal

rahumada@modbee.comJuly 16, 2013 

DN James Hooker

Jordan Powers and James Hooker, a former Modesto teacher walk out of the courtroom (7-15-13).

DEBBIE NODA — Modesto Bee

— Attorneys reached a last-minute plea deal Monday, avoiding a trial for former Modesto teacher James Hooker, who pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of having oral sex with an underage high school student 15 years ago.

As part of the plea deal, the 43-year-old Modesto defendant will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff ordered Hooker not to initiate contact or communication with females ages 12 to 18 unless another adult is present. The defendant's daughters are excluded from this court order.

The defendant is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday to a suspended jail term of 180 days and four years of probation. If he commits another crime in the next three years or violates his probation, the judge can order him to serve up to 180 days in jail.

The 17-year-old victim in the criminal case, now a 31-year-old woman, testified in Hooker's October preliminary hearing that the defendant performed oral sex on her at his mother's rural house near Turlock.

Hooker gained national notoriety after he confirmed to The Modesto Bee last year that he had an affair with another high school student.

Prosecutors initially charged Hooker with one felony count of committing oral copulation with a person younger than 18, stemming from the alleged incident in the summer of 1998. Had he been convicted of the felony, he would have faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison, said Assistant District Attorney Carol Shipley.

The attorneys started negotiating Monday morning as jury selection was expected to start at 1:30 p.m., and they agreed to the plea deal shortly after noon. Shipley would not say which side offered the plea deal or why prosecutors agreed to it.

Mary Lynn Belsher, Hooker's attorney, asked the court to return her client's passport Wednesday. Zeff agreed to make arrangements to hand over the passport during his sentencing hearing.

The defense attorney declined to comment about the criminal case's outcome. As she walked out of the courtroom, she told reporters to go ahead and make up whatever they want.

"This is a travesty, is what it is," Belsher said moments before she walked past cameras and reporters gathered in the courthouse hallway. "Leave us alone, please," she added.

Shipley said the Stanislaus County district attorney's office did not want to comment about the plea deal until after the sentencing.

The court allows victims or their families to give a victim impact statement in court before a defendant is sentenced. Shipley would neither confirm nor deny that the victim in this case will speak in court Wednesday.

Hooker did not answer questions from the media as he walked out of the courthouse with his girlfriend, Jordan Powers, at his side. The couple's relationship was the catalyst that eventually led to a police investigation and the felony charge.

In February 2012, Hooker left his wife and three daughters and quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School in Modesto to move in with Powers, his 18-year-old former student.

A month earlier, detectives began to investigate Hooker after Tammie Powers, Jordan Powers' mother, reported an inappropriate relationship between her daughter and Hooker.

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