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Friday, December 14 , 2018, 4:55 am | Fair 52º


St. Joseph High School Administrators Avoid Jail Time

Two former St. Joseph High School administrators convicted of failing to report an alleged sexual assault by two students against a fellow student were spared jail terms Tuesday during their sentencing hearing.

Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Edward Bullard fined former St. Joseph Principal Joe Myers and former Dean of Students John Walker each $500, and ordered them to pay $145 in restitution.

A jury in Santa Maria convicted Myers and Walker of the misdemeanor crime Oct. 2.

Bullard said Tuesday that probation and jail time would serve no purpose in a case of two men who were clearly trying to protect student victims.

Walker and Myers were charged July 12 with failing to report a suspected sexual assault on a 16-year-old student by two other students. They were “mandated reporters” under state law because of their positions of responsibility with the school.

Walker was found not guilty of a second count of the same charge, in which prosecutors alleged he did not report a 14-year-old student’s allegations of sexual assault.

The former administrators could have faced up to six months in County Jail and a $1,000 fine.

Both defendants, who sat silently in blank suits behind their attorneys, quickly left the Santa Maria courtroom through a back door after the sentencing.

Bullard heard prosecution and defense motions and recommendations prior to sentencing, which included Deputy District Attorney Ann Nudson requesting that Myers and Walker serve community service at the North County Rape Crisis and Children Protection Center.

Bullard denied a defense request to dismiss the case on grounds that the jury was not able to hear any evidence regarding the failure of law enforcement to pursue initial reporting.

“The defendants did the best they could with the information they had,” Myer’s attorney Michael Scott said. “We all make mistakes. All these men wanted was a fair trial.”

Scott went on to say that Myers already has been punished because he had to resign his post after the conviction and likely won’t find another job.

“He wants to get on with his life,” Scott said.

Walker’s attorney, Ilan Funke-Bilu, echoed concern that his client remains unemployed after being dismissed from St. Joseph last school year. He added that Walker’s wife, Robin, also no longer teaches at St. Joseph because she’s caring for an ailing parent.

“This case is the saddest case I’ve had, probably in my life,” Funke-Bilu said. “It required me to question why I became a lawyer. In my heart, I would’ve done exactly what he had done. I’m very disappointed by the prosecution.”

The mother of the 16-year-old victim spoke out Tuesday for the former administrators, denouncing the DA’s Office for proceeding with the case when parents and victims didn’t want to.

“My daughter was not insulted by these people,” the mother said, noting that her daughter refers to Walker as her hero. “These men should teach. They should be with kids. They are her champions. I put them in a bad position and I didn’t intend for it. These are important men. I need you to know that.”

After reading several letters from community supporters of the two defendants, Bullard said he was certain neither of them was trying to cover up the assault for the church or school.

“I believe the defendants are good men who made a mistake,” Bullard said.

Following the sentencing, Scott reiterated outside the courtroom that the case never should have gone to trial.

“The ultimate goal was protection of that child,” he said. “I don’t disagree with the judge. I hope that an employer will give them a chance.”

Funke-Bilu smiled and yelled “Yeah!” in agreement.

Nudson said while the case was unpopular with some in the community, the 12 community members on the jury returned the conviction.

“It’s always been our position that we prosecute what’s right and not necessarily what’s popular,” she said. “We will always prosecute cases that affect vulnerable victims. It was never our position that this was a jail case or a fine case. I think it’s our position that a more appropriate sentence would’ve involved community service.”

A short time after sentencing, Walker said he was going to the beach to clear his mind and be free of the case.

“It is what it is,” he said, adding that he went straight to the clerk’s office to pay his fines in full. “It’s a really, really long process for a $645 fine. In my opinion, it never should have been prosecuted.

“I respect it. I’m done. I paid my fine. I’m free. I just thank everybody in the community who supported me throughout this. The people of Santa Maria have been really good to me.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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