A judge on Thursday rejected a request for restitution for the legal services of a nationally known attorney who represented the victim in a criminal case involving a former Modesto teacher charged with having sex with a 17-year-old girl.
Gloria Allred was hired to protect the reputation of victim Michelle Miller, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. The prosecutors were asking the court to order defendant James Hooker to pay $1,200.77 in restitution for Allred’s services.
In July, Hooker pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of having oral sex with Miller in the summer of 1998. The 43-year-old Modesto defendant is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life and serve four years of probation.
Deputy District Attorney Beth O’Hara Owen argued in court Thursday that Miller hired Allred as the case made national headlines and news reporters tracked down Miller and her family, even though authorities had not publicly released her name at that time.
Owen told the judge that Miller hired Allred as a direct result of Hooker’s criminal conduct in this case. She said news media blew the case out of proportion. “It was a reputation at stake, there were people knocking at her door,” Owen said.
Hooker did not attend the court hearing Thursday morning. His defense attorney, Mary Lynn Belsher, who challenged the restitution request, appeared on his behalf.
Hooker gained national notoriety after he confirmed to The Bee last year that he had an affair with another high school student, 18-year-old Jordan Powers. She sat in court next to Hooker in several hearings in the case, including the defendant’s sentencing hearing.
In January 2012, detectives began to investigate Hooker after Tammie Powers, Jordan Powers’ mother, reported her suspicions of an inappropriate relationship between Hooker and her daughter. A month later, Hooker left his wife and three daughters and quit his job as a business teacher at Enochs High School to move in with Jordan Powers. Since his July sentencing, Hooker’s divorce has been finalized.
Prosecutors initially charged Hooker with one felony count of committing oral copulation with a person younger than 18, saying he had an illicit relationship with Miller in 1998. Had he been convicted of the felony, he would have faced a maximum sentence of three years in prison.
While giving her victim impact statement in court, Miller explained how she was hounded by TV news reporters, including one who found her mother as she returned home from grocery shopping. She said she received phone calls from the “Dr. Phil” show, one of the two nationally televised shows on which Hooker and Jordan Powers appeared before he was arrested.
Miller was identified only as Jane Doe in the filed criminal complaint and when she testified in court. Allred revealed Miller’s name to news media, with her client’s permission, only after Hooker was sentenced. Allred attended hearings when her client needed to appear in court.
Owen told the judge that the restitution request disproves the defense’s assertion that Allred was hired to secure a book deal for Miller.
Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff said he wasn’t trying to make light of it, but he felt that Miller had an attorney to “basically hold her hand” in court. He said Allred was not hired to protect any economic interests.
The judge told the attorneys that the law grants restitution for economic damages produced by the case – for instance, resulting civil litigation. He said the expenses for Allred’s legal services were not related to economic damages, so he denied the prosecution’s restitution request.
As part of the sentence, Zeff has 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. Hooker was sentenced to a suspended jail term of 180 days and four years of probation. If he violates his probation, the judge can order him to serve up to 180 days in jail.