Former teacher and law student Joseph Beck pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor counts for having sex with a minor and was sentenced on Thursday to 180 days in jail. Beck will also have to register as a sex offender for three years, the duration of his probation time, though he will not be placed on the permanent sex offender registry.

Joseph Beck

In June 2013, Beck, 38, and the minor (who is referred to as Jane Doe) had intercourse and oral sex a number of times. The acts were consensual, but Doe was 17 years old — about two months shy of turning 18. Beck had worked part-time as a drama teacher at Laguna Blanca, where Jane Doe attended high school, but he quit in 2012. Beck’s departure was unrelated to the criminal charges later filed against him, according to Laguna Blanca headmaster Rob Hereford. Hereford said in August he could not comment further on the matter, citing employee privacy policy.

Since being charged earlier this year, Beck continued to be active in the drama world, and he pursued a degree at the Santa Barbara College of Law. It’s unclear if these charges will affect his ability to obtain law credentials, a decision that would be made by the State Bar.

Representing Beck, attorney Bill Makler said he could not elaborate on the circumstances surrounding the sexual encounters but that his client wasn’t predatory. “He’s not considered a threat to anybody else. He was not prowling around to victimize,” said Makler. “This was a very sort of perfect storm situation where he was vulnerable to the advance and weakened to the temptation and had hell to pay for it.”

The school is involved in a separate civil lawsuit, which alleges that Doe had discussed in front of teacher Martha Elliot a previous sexual assault that had happened when Doe was a young girl. Though that incident had happened years prior, teachers are mandated reporters, and Elliot failed to properly report the incident, the lawsuit alleges.

A few weeks later, the lawsuit contends, Doe was taken advantage of by Beck, though Beck is not named in it. The suit argues that if the prior sexual assault had been properly reported, Doe may not have been victimized by Beck. Earlier this year, Headmaster Hereford issued a statement about the civil suit: “I am working diligently with the Board of Trustees and our legal counsel to understand the circumstances of this situation and resolve them in the best interests of the entire Laguna community.”

One of the lawyers representing Doe in the civil matter, attorney Josh Lynn, said on Friday he’s glad the criminal process has been resolved, “The seriousness of the allegation was confirmed in court [this week].” Lynn added that the criminal outcome has little bearing on the civil case. “It’s certainly our hope that we are able to come to terms with what’s happened, and we expect it will have constructive dialogue in the future,” he said.


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