A former Simi Valley high school teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a male student said Tuesday that what prompted her to plead guilty was fear of the publicity accompanying a trial.
The teacher, Carol Dougherty, 44, accepted the Ventura County district attorney's plea-bargain offer and pleaded guilty Monday in Ventura County Superior Court to three counts of oral copulation with a minor. Twelve other counts of oral copulation with a minor and child annoyance were dismissed.
The felony charges carry a maximum prison sentence of four years and four months, but prosecutors said Judge Charles McGrath has indicated he will not sentence Dougherty to prison.
Dougherty resigned Dec. 20 from her post as English teacher at Royal High School after the mother of the 16-year-old student involved complained to school district officials. Dougherty admitted that she had an affair with the youth in November and December.
The Simi Valley Unified School District last week rejected a $2-million claim by the teen-ager and his parents that alleged that the affair had damaged them mentally and emotionally.
Dougherty was prepared to argue at trial that the student was a willing participant in the affair and that no crime was committed, according to her attorney, Les Nadasi.
Offer Shunned Before
Dougherty's plea surprised the prosecutor, Deputy Dist. Atty. Chuck Campbell, who said Dougherty had rejected the plea-bargain offer last week during a pretrial conference. "I'm glad for the victim, that he doesn't have to come in and testify," he said.
Dougherty said Tuesday that the thought of the upcoming trial and its attendant publicity prompted her decision to accept the plea bargain.
Dougherty is the estranged wife of the chairman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, James Dougherty.
"It's just been so much strain the past four months," she said. "I just go around crying. I don't think anybody's ever seen me cry before in my whole life."
Dougherty said she had to quit two part-time jobs during the past four months because her employers were worried that the publicity would reflect badly upon them. She said her weight dropped to 97 pounds.
"I'd like to be on Mars right now, but you can't always have what you want," she said.