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Loving the Kids, Willits Style

Clint Smith's lawyer, Mark Kalina, asked, “Everyone here for Clinton Smith please stand.”

Almost everyone in the packed Willits courtroom last Tuesday, stood.

There were school teachers and churchgoers, parents and children, all of them standing for Clint.

It was trial by community, and Clint Smith's community, which included the judge, was there for him.

Clint Smith is a 38-year-old Willits Charter School math and physics teacher. He's married. Mrs. Smith teaches at an elementary school in Willits. The Smiths have two daughters, the elder of whom is a classmate and former close friend of the 15-year-old girl her father was sleeping with for nearly a year.

Mr. Smith told his student he loved her, that he would leave his wife and children for her when she turned 18. They played on-line games together, games designed for adolescents, not 38-year-old men. Smith asked his student to send him nude pictures of herself, and he would send her nude pictures of himself. They had sex at Smith's house while Smith's wife was at work, while his daughters were at school.

And the nicest people in Willits were now standing for Smith in the same courtroom of the same judge who had already, and reluctantly, convicted Smith on a single count of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.

All the other charges against Smith had been dropped by Judge Brennan, the loosest judge in Mendocino County, maybe the loosest judge anywhere. Those charges included lewd and lascivious acts with a child; oral copulation with a child under the age of 16; sexual penetration with a foreign object; sexual intercourse with a minor; and providing harmful matter to a minor with the intent of seduction.

All the nice people standing in silent support of their hero, the fallen physics teacher, seemed to regard Smith as the victim of the 15-year-old, Jezebel the sophomore. Or, if not her victim, just a guy who was too darn nice to turn down the gift of young flesh.

One has to wonder if all the people standing for Smith, who included Smith's father-in-law, Roger Hearn, would have remained standing if they'd seen the videos Smith had sent his young love, those charming little movies Smith made of himself masturbating. Smith sent his 15-year-old lots of those, dispatched them so heedlessly that the 15-year-old's 12-year-old sister saw them too, a premature lesson for the younger child of the joys awaiting her at the Willits Charter School.

Maybe Smith sent the girl the videos because they were cheaper than red roses and singing valentines, but don't tell the girl's mom that. “He's a stone pervert,” she says. “What's wrong with these people who are defending him?”

Smith hired three therapists to depict his mental health as normal if not robust. They said Smith was “unlikely to re-offend,” as if that was the point. They also said that Smith was not a threat to public safety, that he certainly doesn't belong in prison, that he shouldn't have to register as a sex offender, that he simply made a mistake, that he isn't a nut.

Defense attorney Kalina, and the three therapists – Kevin Kelly of Ukiah and Robin Goldner and Mary Delaney of Willits argued that Smith was “a loner, a co-dependent,” so anxious to please he “didn't know how” to break off a relationship he knew was wrong, “fearful that the young woman might be disappointed in him.”

None of the therapists interviewed the girl, but Kelly's report was at least otherwise conscientious. Goldner's and Delany's assessments were crazier than their patient.

Delaney testified that Smith's “transgression was not setting boundaries with a student…” that “he had a lack of knowledge and understanding of how to deal with young women who may act provocatively toward him,” that Smith didn't have “the pursuing instinct of real predators.”

Delaney wrapped up by suggesting that Smith “use his experience to train and educate other teachers.”

Therapist Goldner, a female who sports a uniquely distracting goatee, said, “It would be unjust for Clinton Smith to go to prison… It would be a ridiculous waste of time and money… pure suffering and pure punishment and not healing, which is what he needs.”

Goldner said that the therapy already visited upon Smith by his trio of helping professionals translated as “85 percent of his rehabilitation has already been done.”

A retired judge named Gustafson, also of Willits, said he'd seen cases resembling the Smith case, implying that it was all the girl's fault.

Smith himself delivered a monotonal, pro forma “apology.”

“I want to deeply and sincerely apologize for my wrong actions that hurt so many people…”

Defense attorney Kalina, apparently aware that his client was in fact a textbook example of insincerity if not psychopathology, insisted that Smith “was truly remorseful.”

Prosecutor Dan McConnell did what he could to restore at least a semblance of sanity to the proceedings. He pointed out that Smith had at first partly blamed the girl, and had resorted to Viagra to ensure his performances, several of which occurred in the erotic parking lot of a Willits bank. McConnell, again illustrating the obvious to a roomful of morally oblivious citizens, said the law regards 15-year-olds as children, that they legally cannot consent to sex with adults, however childlike the adults may be.

The Mendocino County Probation Department's Tim King was similarly reality-based.

“…The punishment warrants a prison recommendation, otherwise what message does that send to other young girls who are infatuated with their teacher, or to others in the same profession. Furthermore, probation was appalled at the number of teachers and educators who submitted letters in support of Mr. Smith.”

Just before Smith was sentenced, the courtroom was cleared for the victim. She wanted to make a statement. The statement she made was that Smith shouldn't go to prison because he's a nice man. It was clear from her remarks the girl still loves him. She said that jail time “wouldn't be fair to his family.”

Judge Brennan, with Lady Justice's blindfold fully removed, had the bailiff summon everyone back into his courtroom where he sentenced Smith to six months in the County Jail, three years summary probation with four years in prison suspended. Smith, the judge said, would not have to register as a sex offender and there would be no restrictions on his access to computers.

Brennan told Smith to report to jail on August 25th.

With the couple of weeks he's already done in the County Jail, and time off for good behavior, Smith will be home for Christmas.

The victim's mother is suing the Willits School District in federal court. She says the school district has acted irresponsibly, which isn't the half of it.

* * *

NOTES: Jake Isaac assisted with this story. Judge Brennan is not widely admired in Willits. The Willits man who shot the tame deer in Brooktrails? Brennan let him off. The Willits man who clearcut public trees to get more sun for his pot plants? Brennan let him slide. The Willits woman who tried to get a restraining order against her deranged ex-husband who'd followed her to Willits from the MidWest? She didn't get the restraining order.

The following is a letter from a local teacher that nicely sums up the prevalent public reaction to the disposition of the Smith matter:

“Clinton Douglas Smith, a former teacher at Willits Charter School (not to be confused with Willits High School), received a suspended sentence for having a sexual relationship with a 15 year old girl. Let me repeat that. A 38 year old male teacher was given a pass for having sex with a girl that was hardly in high school.

I don’t know which of the following facts is more disturbing:

• That a 38 year old male thought that it was ok to have sex with a 15 year old girl.

• That a teacher found a 15 year old sexually attractive.

• That the man was married and had a daughter that was friends with the victim.

• That the psychologists found that he wasn’t a sexual predator.

• That the psychologists actually recommended that Smith hold a workshop for teachers on how to stay out of sexual relationships with students.

• That a fair amount of people supported him.

• That people were “relieved” with the court ruling.

• That 20 local area teachers sent letters supporting this guy.

We are talking about a man who took full advantage of a young girl, filling her head with images of a mature relationship. Yet the judicial system seems to be looking at this as a small mistake. This isn’t a mistake, this is a disgusting action that was made by choice by a mature man, a choice that was clearly illegal. And while I would never condone a relationship between a teacher and a student, we aren’t talking about an 18 year old student and 23-year old teacher, we're talking about manipulation of a young girl by a much older man.

How the hell does this guy get off with 'time served' and a suspended sentence? That baffles the mind. It is also a sad commentary about the legal system of rural Northern California, where we are more concerned with protecting drug dealers and child molesters than enforcing legitimate rule-of-law. This blight can do nothing but make Willits look bad, real bad.

And other teachers sending support? Are you kidding me? Let me make it clear that I know of NO teachers from Willits High School that support this guy. I can’t believe that anyone would actually speak in support of this crime. You would guess that the best of friends would do the wise thing and shut-the-hell-up. But actual letters of support? I’m a teacher and if I found out who sent those letters, if I had a kid, I would pull my kid out of that instructor’s class in a second. There is simply no excuse.

People of Mendocino County, understand that teachers do not find this behavior acceptable. I work with people that would have no problem locking this guy away for a long, long time. Clinton Smith, and his idiot supporters, do not represent the vast majority of educators in Mendocino County.

And to the judge that sat in on this case: What the hell were you thinking?”

One Comment

  1. […] totally disturbing—piece in last week’s New Yorker on Roman Polanksi and was reminded of Clint Smith, the Willits high school teacher who carried on a nearly year-long extramarital affair with his […]

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