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Ex-La Jolla Country Day teacher pleads guilty to having sex with student

Posted at 4:53 PM, Aug 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-27 19:53:40-04

SAN DIEGO (CNS) - A former La Jolla Country Day School teacher pleaded guilty Thursday to having sex with a 17-year-old female student and faces up to one year in local custody.

An Oct. 21 sentencing date is scheduled for Jonathan Sammartino, 37, who also could face lifetime sex offender registration and be prohibited from teaching again at any school.

San Diego County Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rogers, who took Sammartino's plea to a felony count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, said he was "not inclined" to impose sex offender registration, but still might do so at the sentencing hearing.

As part of the plea agreement, felony counts of oral copulation of a minor and digital penetration of a minor were dismissed.

Sammartino, the son of U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, remains out of custody, pending the sentencing hearing.

The victim, identified only as "Jane Doe" in court proceedings, testified earlier this year at Sammartino's preliminary hearing that the first sexual encounter happened in the early part of 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."

At the preliminary hearing, defense attorney Eugene Iredale unsuccessfully argued to have the charges reduced to misdemeanors, and introduced evidence regarding a 2015 bicycling accident in which Sammartino hit a pothole while riding in La Jolla and landed on his head. Sammartino was hospitalized and had to re-learn some functions before going back to the classroom, according to the defense attorney.

Iredale argued that the brain injury affected his emotions and ability to make reasonable judgments, playing "a significant factor" in the commission of the charged acts.

Rogers ruled against the defense request in January. Though he said he believed Sammartino had been affected by the injury and was unlikely to re- offend, he stated that the sexual nature of the defendant's relationship with the teen was entirely his idea.

"She wanted an emotional relationship with Dr. Sammartino. That is abundantly clear, and frankly, I think it's also clear that he wanted and needed an emotional relationship with her. But the sex was not her idea; the sex was his idea," Rogers said. "He was the grown-up and it was his responsibility not to do that."