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Ex-La Jolla Country Day teacher gets probation for sex charge with 17-year-old student

Posted at 12:53 PM, Oct 21, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 15:53:32-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A former La Jolla Country Day School teacher who had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female student over the course of several months was sentenced Wednesday to probation and community service and was prohibited from teaching again in any capacity.

Jonathan Sammartino, the 37-year-old son of U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, could have faced up to one year in local custody and sex offender registration following his guilty plea to a felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor. He previously faced two other felony sex counts that could have had him facing prison time, but those counts were dismissed after he pleaded guilty in August.

Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle said the plea agreement was reached in part because the victim, identified only as "Jane Doe" in court proceedings, did not want the case to go to trial. She also declined to virtually attend Wednesday morning's sentencing hearing.

Doyle said the victim was content that the case is resolved and has "changed and healed" since her interactions with Sammartino, which occurred in 2016.

"It's her wish to move on with her life," the prosecutor said.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rogers ordered the defendant to complete his 400 hours of community service at any nonprofit organization by next August.

In declining to impose sex offender registration, Rogers cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that found registration was most suited for those considered dangerous and likely to re-offend.

The judge said though Sammartino's conduct toward the victim could be considered predatory, due to their age difference and his abuse of a position of trust, "there is not an iota of evidence that this conduct was an expression of an underlying character trait on his part. I see no indication that this man is predatory or is likely to repeat this conduct with another person or is a danger to others."

Rogers also cited a bicycling accident Sammartino suffered about a year prior to the offenses, which the defendant and his attorney say caused a brain injury that inhibited his impulse control and ability to make reasonable judgments. The judge said he didn't think the injury excused Sammartino, but said he believed it was a contributing factor to the offenses.

Sammartino made a statement to the court, in which he said, "I am very sorry for everything that has happened and for the misery caused by my unfortunate involvement with Ms. Doe. I know that my behavior's disrupted her life, my own life, and the community."

He said he was "not the same person" he was before the bicycling accident and was continuing to seek treatment for "my mental impairments that led to those behaviors."

Sammartino said he would find another line of work in order to serve the community.

Though his probation terms prohibit him from teaching, his attorney, Eugene Iredale, said Sammartino's doctoral degree precluded him from needing a teaching credential, which he would otherwise be required to surrender.

Instead, Iredale said his client has pledged not to teach again, and cannot do so in any practical way, "because in the age of the internet, there is truly no ancient history."

"As, of course, a condition of this plea agreement, and without hesitation, he has pledged that he will not seek to teach anywhere ... and that means anywhere at any level in any way, including private tutoring, including college instruction or community college," the defense attorney said.

In testimony earlier this year at Sammartino's preliminary hearing, the victim said the first sexual encounter happened in early 2016, when he arrived at her home unannounced around midnight. She said she went outside to meet with him in his car, at which point he told her he didn't trust himself around her.

Sexual encounters occurred that night in his car and on several other occasions in his vehicle and his house over the next few months, she testified.

The victim, who went on to attend UC Berkeley, filed a report with campus police in the summer of 2018. Charges were filed later that year.

In a recorded phone call played during the preliminary hearing, Sammartino admitted to the past encounters with the victim.

"Why did you do it? You knew I was 17," Doe says on the recording. "You knew I was your student. You knew it was my first time and I lost my virginity to you."

"I don't have a good answer, because I wasn't thinking through what I was doing," he replied, apologizing to her several times throughout the call. "I can't believe that I did that."