July court date set for former Modesto teacher Hooker

12/04/2012 9:37 AM

12/04/2012 11:17 PM

A judge on Tuesday scheduled a July 15 trial for 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.

The alleged victim, now 31, testified in Hooker's preliminary hearing that he performed oral sex on her at his mother's rural house near Turlock.

Hooker briefly appeared Tuesday morning in Stanislaus County Superior Court. Mary Lynn Belsher, his defense attorney, told Judge Thomas Zeff she soon will file a motion to dismiss the charge.

Belsher said she will argue that the judge failed to hear arguments on the statute of limitations and probable cause in the case, and the prosecutor withheld discovery evidence.

"And I can prove it. I will prove it," Belsher said outside the courtroom after Tuesday's hearing.

Belsher told reporters that news coverage of the case has ruined her client's reputation.

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 Jordan Powers, then an 18-year-old former student.

After a February interview with The Bee about their relationship, Hooker and Powers appeared on the "Good Morning America" and "Dr. Phil" TV shows.

Belsher told the judge she would like to have a jury questionnaire to ensure potential jurors have not been unfairly influenced by news coverage.

Prosecution sure there can be a fair trial

Zeff told Belsher it's not likely he will agree to a specifically designed jury questionnaire, but they can discuss it later.

After the hearing, Deputy District Attorney Beth O'Hara Owen said that she is sure that the defendant can receive a fair trial. She said there was no prosecutorial misconduct.

"There has been no withholding of evidence," Owen said.

Belsher told the judge that she estimates that the trial's testimony and arguments will last about five days alone. Owen told the judge the trial should last about three weeks, including jury selection.

The judge scheduled Hooker to return to court July 3 for a pretrial hearing. Another judge will hear arguments over Belsher's motion to dismiss at a date that has not been scheduled.

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

He has not been charged with any misconduct stemming from his relationship with Powers.

During that investigation, the detectives learned of the alleged victim from 1998. The woman 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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