Former Modesto teacher ordered to surrender passport

04/10/2012 9:25 AM

04/10/2012 9:59 PM

A prosecutor on Tuesday convinced a judge that a former Modesto high school teacher is a flight risk after authorities learned of his plans to leave the country in April with an 18-year-old former student he was living with. He was arrested last week on a charge of sexual misconduct with a 17-year-old girl in 1998.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff ordered James Hooker, 41, of Modesto to surrender his passport while he remains free on $50,000 bail.

The judge, however, did not grant the prosecution's request to confine Hooker to Stanislaus County or the state. He warned Hooker that "if you miss one court date, there will be a substantial increase to your bail."

Hooker, a former Enochs High School teacher, attracted national media attention in February when he left his wife and three daughters and quit his job to move into an apartment with Jordan Powers, an 18-year-old Enochs student.

He was arrested Friday at the couple's apartment on a charge stemming from a romantic relationship with another high school student 14 years ago. Hooker has been charged with one count of committing oral copulation of a person younger than 18.

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

During that investigation, the detectives learned of the alleged victim from August 1998. She told police she was involved in a romantic relationship with Hooker that summer after she graduated from Beyer High School. She was 17, and he was teaching at Davis High.

Hooker appeared in court Tuesday morning for a pretrial hearing. Law enforcement officials retrieved his passport from his estranged wife, Deanna Hooker, and submitted it to the court during a continued hearing in the afternoon.

Tammie Powers attended both hearings. She said she believes Hooker will leave the country "because he's lost everything. He's lost his wife, his job and his girlfriend."

"I'm disappointed," Powers said in the courthouse hallway after the second hearing. "I was hoping he would be confined to Stanislaus County. He's a flight risk."

Hooker's relationship with Jordan Powers became public after Tammie Powers began castigating Hooker on her Facebook page. The couple then told The Bee they met when Powers was a freshman at Enochs, but both have said the romance didn't bloom until months after she turned 18 in September.

Jordan Powers says her relationship with Hooker is over. She reunited with her mother and has since moved to an undisclosed location.

Canada travel plans

Deputy District Attorney Beth O'Hara Owen told the judge that investigators have a notebook that had a scribbled itinerary for flights to Canada in April and May. She said the notes indicate that Hooker was going to Canada with Jordan Powers, and that the teenager needed to obtain a passport.

Tammie Powers told authorities she found the notebook while moving her daughter out of Hooker's apartment Friday, shortly after his arrest.

Owen told the judge Hooker is a flight risk because he has been trying to reach Jordan Powers, who is out of state.

"He wants to go find Jordan Powers," Owen argued. "He wants to continue the relationship with this teenager."

Public defender Marlon Simon has been assigned to represent Hooker. He told the judge that Hooker had made plans for a cruise weeks before the alleged victim contacted police.

Simon told the judge Hooker is facing "unfortunate sensationalism" and a "barrage" of media. He said his client might need to leave the county to seek refuge.

"He's harassed wherever he goes," Simon argued in court. "Mr. Hooker is innocent until proven guilty. He's no different than any other man or woman."

Authorities have indicated in court documents that Hooker has no criminal history.

The defense attorney told the judge his client is not a flight risk, and a vast majority of his finances are tied up in his divorce proceedings. He said Hooker has "minimal" incentive to flee. "He's a national figure, there's no place for him to go."

Zeff said he was satisfied with Hooker surrendering his passport. "I think he's shown good faith, so far. He's shown up to all his hearings," the judge said.

The judge scheduled Hooker to return to court May 15 for another pretrial hearing. Simon told Zeff it's possible Hooker will try to hire a private attorney to represent him.

Zeff granted a restraining order against Hooker that instructs him to stay away from the alleged victim. She is listed as "Jane Doe" in the criminal complaint.

Court officials moved the hearing to a different courtroom to accommodate local and national media who arrived at the courthouse Tuesday. The cameras stayed outside in the hallway while reporters went into the courtroom.

The morning hearing lasted about 15 minutes. Waiting for the courtroom doors to open, Hooker faced a wall in the hallway and turned his back to news cameras.

Hooker then waited in an area where jail inmates typically wait for their court appearances before he entered the courtroom.

Hooker and his attorney left the courtroom and walked through a throng of cameras and microphones in the hallway. They did not comment.

Divorce hearing scheduled

Zeff continued a hearing in the Hookers' divorce case until April 24; Deanna Hooker did not appear in court. She is seeking a divorce on grounds of "irreconcilable differences," according to court documents filed Feb. 24. They would have been married 20 years today.

She is seeking full custody of their three daughters — ages 17, 13 and 10 — along with full spousal and child support. He is seeking visitation rights.

He estimates his former earnings as $99,600 a year from his teaching salary and extra income. She was a stay-at-home mom. Neither lists any source of current income.

Hooker petitioned the court March 28 to grant him access to their joint savings account of $35,000, saying he had no money to live on. That petition was denied pending the economic hearing postponed Tuesday.

Hooker's mother told Modesto police that her son is entitled to receive about $150,000 once her home closes escrow, according to a filed court document seeking the $50,000 bail amount for the defendant. Hooker co-owns his mother's Denair home.

Bee staff writer Nan Austin contributed to this report.

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

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