Former JDHS coach sentenced for stealing fund-raiser cash

Posted: Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Former Juneau-Douglas High School basketball coach James Hamey pleaded guilty in Juneau Superior Court today to stealing $1,000 from the basketball program in November to make the new coach look bad.

Hamey, who apologized and said he was "disgusted" by his actions, testified he was motivated by malice and anger at not being able to coach for the school district anymore.

Hamey, 55, a longtime coach and teacher at the high school, pleaded guilty to third-degree theft, a class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $10,000 fine for an offense of Nov. 25. He already returned the money.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins suspended imposition of sentence during Hamey's hearing today. His conviction will be set aside if he successfully completes 18 months of probation.

His probation conditions include 150 hours of community work service as well as anger-management, obsessive-compulsive and psychological counseling, all of which he initiated himself after the incident.

Hamey has no prior criminal record, said District Attorney Rick Svobodny. He was employed with the district for 32 years until his retirement in 2000 due to debilitating diabetes and arthritis. During his tenure, he coached boys basketball for 22 years and girls basketball for eight years. After his retirement as a teacher, he continued coaching girls basketball until he was replaced by his assistant, Lesslie Knight, in November.

He said losing his coaching position - which he felt at the time was a conspiracy by school administrators to push him out of the district - coupled with his failing health, led him to steal the money.

"I've spent my life dedicated to doing something I love and cherish," Hamey testified. "I fell into feeling the way I had counseled so many of my students against feeling. I would counsel them on not putting all their value of being into being a basketball player. Well, it ended up, I put all of my self-worth into coaching.

"I take full responsibility for my actions and I am disgusted by them and embarrassed by them. ... I wanted to make (school administrators) look stupid and embarrass them. ... I'm not this person."

Hamey said in an interview that he was sorry and hoped his actions would not affect fund-raising efforts for the basketball teams.

Schools Superintendent Gary Bader, JDHS Principal Deborah Morse and JDHS Athletic Director Sandi Wagner did not return phone calls made by the Empire.

Svobodny gave the factual basis for the case at the hearing, which the defense didn't dispute.

In November, Hamey, still coaching girls basketball, learned Knight was applying for his job. Svobodny said the school district gives preference to, and automatically hires, coaches who teach at the school. Since Hamey was no longer a teacher, Knight was assured the position.

Hamey testified he was "surprised she would do that to me," and said he felt at the time that Morse, Wagner and Knight were conspiring to get rid of him as coach. Hamey testified that during the same time he was losing the coaching position, his medical insurance company refused to cover a diabetes-related medical procedure. He also said he learned he faced a foot amputation if a diabetic ulcer on his foot didn't heal.

Svobodny said that, in vengeance, Hamey obtained a key to Wagner's office from another coach. Hamey knew the proceeds from a student-run raffle were in the office, which Hamey said was against school policy.

He went in and stole the money Nov. 25, Svobodny said. Some students and teachers saw him leaving the office with something in his hand. Morse questioned Hamey, but he denied taking anything, Svobodny said. Hamey put the money in his desk at the school and went on a scheduled trip to Anchorage.

When he returned, Hamey put the money in a bag with a note made from letters cut out of newspapers saying the money was found in a student's room and was returned by a parent, Svobodny said. Police were brought in, Hamey was questioned and ultimately confessed, Svobodny said.

Svobodny acknowledged Hamey had a distinguished career in the district, but said he violated the people who trusted him.

"There was a breach of trust on three levels," said Svobodny at the hearing. "A former employee who had the trust of his employers, a very special trust was breached between a coach and his team, and the special relationship between student and teacher was breached. ... This was worse than a property theft. This was done really to injure another person."

Judge Collins agreed that Hamey had breached a trust, but took into account steps he's taken to rehabilitate himself and his obvious remorse during testimony.

"You've embarrassed yourself and your family. You've tarnished a long, successful career," said Collins at the hearing. "There's nothing this court could do to you for punishment that quite frankly you haven't already done to yourself."

Melanie Plenda can be reached

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