A Glen Burnie High School teacher accused of having sex with female students made bail Friday, according to jail officials, after an Anne Arundel County judge reduced the amount from $3 million to $150,000.
The bail amount, lowered over the objection of prosecutors and at the request of a defense lawyer who accused prosecutors of playing politics in a much-publicized case, allowed Jeffrey Robert Sears Jr., 29, of Glen Burnie, to be released Friday evening.
Annapolis District Judge John McKenna ordered Sears to stay away from schools and have no contact, including by cellphone and computer, with the three teenage girls he is accused of sexually abusing over about two years.
Sears' family, including his wife and parents, attended the hearing and declined to comment. Sears is also the father of a 20-month-old daughter, his lawyer said.
Sears was charged Thursday with sexual abuse of a minor and related counts. County police allege that over about two years, he had sex with three girls at his home, in a car and at school. The allegations surfaced in November, when a coach overheard one of the students talking to another girl about being at Sears' home followed by the flabbergasted reaction of the girl to what her friend said she and Sears did.
Assistant State's Attorney Fred Paone asked the judge to either keep the bail at the $3 million set by a commissioner or change it to no bond, saying that Sears, who appeared from jail on a closed-circuit television screen, was a threat to the teenage girls.
Defense lawyer Laura Robinson retorted that this request smacked of politics — of an elected state's attorney not seeking a reasonable bond because of anticipated public criticism. In other cases in which teachers have been accused of having sex with students, the teachers have not been jailed to await trial, she said. In addition, she said Sears was not a flight risk but a candidate for house arrest, given that he came to see her before Thanksgiving about the investigation into the allegations, turned himself in to police within minutes of Robinson telling him the arrest warrant for him was issued and is in counseling.
"Frequently, politics get in the way of justice," she said.
She said this reminded her of the emotionally pitched 2006 Duke University lacrosse players case. Team members were charged with rape and the students were publicly vilified, only to have charges dropped and case evaporate.
Paone said his request was not political: "I don't know what the politics of this are."
"Oh, please," Robinson shot back.
But Paone said this was about trust that was violated.
"They are minors, and minors that were in his care and trust," Paone said.
"I understand Alderman Paone's comments in that regard," Robinson said, emphasizing Paone's elected position on the Annapolis city council.
Later, Kristin Fleckenstein, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Frank R. Weathersbee, said that it was the commissioner who set the bail Thursday and that Weathersbee did not get involved in Friday's bail hearing.
"Mr. Weathersbee did not speak with anyone regarding the bail hearing for Mr. Sears. The request for a high bail amount as requested by Paone was based solely on the nature of the charges," she said in an email.
Outside the courtroom, Robinson said she hoped Sears would be able to work while awaiting trial. Schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said Thursday he will ask the school board to suspend Sears, who was pulled from the classroom in early November when the allegations were made and is not being paid.
Sears was also a boys junior varsity basketball coach starting in 2008. But he was removed from contact with students before the current season began, school officials said.