Former Modesto teacher pleads not guilty to sex charge

11/06/2012 6:11 AM

11/06/2012 10:09 PM

A former Modesto schoolteacher appeared in court Tuesday with his teenage girlfriend and pleaded not guilty to an allegation of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl 14 years ago.

A judge last month ruled that there was enough evidence for James Hooker, 42, of Modesto to stand trial on one count of committing oral copulation with a person younger than 18, stemming from the alleged incident in the summer of 1998.

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

Tuesday morning, the defendant briefly appeared in Stanislaus County Superior Court for his arraignment hearing. He arrived at the courthouse with his girlfriend, Jordan Powers.

Hooker gained national attention earlier this 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 Powers, an 18-year-old former student. He has not been charged with any potential misconduct stemming from his relationship with Powers.

Mary Lynn Belsher, Hooker's defense attorney, asked Judge Thomas Zeff for more time before he schedules a date to start the trial.

Hooker needs more time to gather enough money to retain Belsher to represent him in the trial, according to Deputy District Attorney Beth O'Hara Owen.

Zeff scheduled Hooker to return to court Dec. 4 to schedule his trial. The defendant remains free on bail.

Detectives initially began to investigate Hooker in January after Tammie Powers reported an inappropriate relationship between her daughter and Hooker, who then was a teacher at Enochs High. Jordan Powers moved in with Hooker on Feb. 22, the day he resigned from Modesto City Schools.

During that investigation, the detectives learned of the alleged victim from 1998. She told police she was involved in a romantic relationship with Hooker the summer after she graduated from high school.

She testified that she met Hooker at a Future Business Leaders of America conference. He was a business teacher at Davis High; she was a senior at Beyer High.

A few weeks after the alleged sexual encounter at his mother's house in August 1998, Hooker ended the relationship, the woman said. She testified that he told her his wife had discovered an e-mail that revealed their affair.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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