A judge Thursday, Jan. 16, ordered a former teacher at La Jolla Country Day School to stand trial on three felony counts of having unlawful sexual relations with a 17-year-old female student in 2016.
The student, who is now 21 and in college, testified about the sexual contacts. She recalled the first time she snuck out of her house at midnight to meet her teacher, Jonathan Sammartino, then 33, outside her Torrey Hills home in his car.
She said the two only "made out" in the back seat of his car, but sometime later they engaged in sexual intercourse and oral sex in his car and his home. Sammartino was married at the time, but he is now divorced.
Sammartino, who is now 36, is on leave from a private school in San Jose. He remains free on $25,000 bond. He has pleaded not guilty.
Sammartino's mother, who is U.S. District Court Judge Janis Sammartino, was in the audience with her husband, a retired judge. Another federal judge who is a family friend also attended the hearing. Jonathan Sammartino has a doctorate in experimental psychology.
San Diego Superior Court Judge Charles Rogers heard the testimony in a two-day preliminary hearing. He ordered a trial after saying there was sufficient evidence presented.
His attorney, Eugene Iredale, sought to have the charges reduced to misdemeanors and cited a 2015 bicycle accident in La Jolla where he fell and suffered head injuries in three places. Sammartino struck a pothole on Torrey Pines Road, and the accident changed him, according to testimony.
Iredale argued the accident changed Sammartino's ability to relate, plan, or control his conduct. He said the "the real issue" of the case is the trauma to Sammartino's brain.
Victor Boft, a longtime friend of Sammartino, testified the accident changed him so much that he needed constant reminders of when to eat meals or do errands.
Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle successfully urged the judge not to reduce the charges to misdemeanors. He said "a reasonable expectation" of any teacher is that they not have sex with a student.
"This defendant abused his position of trust," said Doyle.
The three incidents of unlawful sexual contact occurred from April to September 2016. Iredale claimed Sammartino was not aware the student was 17, saying he thought she was 18 years old.
"He said he didn't trust himself around me," said his former student. "He was also my teacher. He kissed me. We made out.
"It was a routine thing. He would come at midnight," she said. "He was pressuring me to see him.
"I had tried to cut it off a number of times. He tried to convince me not to break things off," said the woman. "I definitely cared about him as a person."
"Was he a good teacher?" asked Iredale.
"I enjoyed his classes. I definitely respected his credentials," replied the woman, before she asked Iredale, "Does a good teacher engage in acts with a student?"
Iredale asked her if she felt he should not be a teacher. "He should not work with minors," she replied.
Iredale referenced a blog that the student wrote about Sammartino, and noted she wrote she loved him. "At that age, I don't think I knew what love is," she said.
The woman recalled an instance in which she thought Sammartino had a seizure in his car. She remembered hearing about his bicycle accident.
Sammartino's voice was heard in court in which a controlled phone call from the woman was played. San Diego Police Detective John Sullivan testified the call was recorded when she made the phone call on Aug. 22, 2018.
The woman told Sammartino she lost her virginity to him at age 17, and he replied, "I will always be sorry. I don't have a good answer. I just didn't think it through," said Sammartino.
"I'm sorry. I miss talking to you," said Sammartino. "I'll never give out my cell phone [number] again [to a student]."
"I know it was my fault. I know it was wrong," said Sammartino. "I'm sorry. For the rest of my days, I wish I had not violated that trust. I hope you know I will never do this again."
The woman reported the conduct to campus police officers where she was in college in July 2018. San Diego Police then investigated, which resulted in his arrest on Sept. 11, 2018.
Iredale said an analysis of the victim's phone records shows that she called him 69 times over many months. Iredale said in 12 calls, the woman spoke with Sammartino longer than one hour. He said the longest conversation between them lasted 5 hours and 8 minutes, which was from 10 p.m. until the early morning hours.
Rogers ordered Sammartino to return to court on Jan. 21, when a trial date will be set.
There was a humorous moment during the hearing when Iredale mentioned the name of "Siri" as Sammartino's scheduler. Someone in the audience had a cell phone that woke up to the name of Siri and the voice asked, "How can I help you?"
Iredale was surprised but continued his argument. When he mentioned the name of Siri again, the voice spoke again from the man's cell phone, asking how she could be of assistance.