SAN DIEGO — A former teacher at La Jolla Country Day School accused of engaging in a months-long sexual relationship with his 17-year-old student was ordered Thursday to stand trial on three felony counts.
Jonathan Sammartino, the 36-year-old son of U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino, is accused of engaging in a romantic/sexual relationship with “Jane Doe” between April and September 2016.
He’s charged with statutory rape, oral copulation of a minor and digital penetration of a minor and faces four years and four months in state prison if convicted of all charges.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Charles G. Rogers held Sammartino to answer on the charges, and also denied a defense motion to reduce the felony charges to misdemeanors.
Defense attorney Eugene Iredale introduced evidence regarding a bicycling accident Sammartino had in 2015, in which he hit a pothole while riding in La Jolla and landed on his head. Sammartino was hospitalized and placed in a coma and had to re-learn some functions before going back to the classroom, according to the defense lawyer.
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 said he did not believe Sammartino was likely to re-offend and had been affected by his injury, but stated that the sexual nature of their relationship was entirely Sammartino’s 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.”
Doe, now 21, testified earlier this week that the first sexual encounter happened in the early part of 2016, when Sammartino 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 allegedly occurred that night in his car and on several other occasions in his vehicle and his house over the next few months, but Doe said she confided in a friend who convinced her to break it off with Sammartino. She testified he responded by threatening suicide and self-harm.
In the summer of 2018, she filed a crime report with the UC Berkeley Police Department, where she attends college.
In a recorded phone call played during the hearing, Sammartino admitted the past romantic/sexual relationship with the alleged victim.
“Why did you do it? You knew I was 17?” Doe asks. “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 replies, apologizing to Doe several times throughout the call. “I can’t believe that I did that.”
Charges were filed in September 2018.
Sammartino, who remains out of custody on bond, will return to court on Jan. 21 for a status conference and Superior Court arraignment.