A Sedgwick County judge appeared to be teetering between prison and probation Thursday as he prepared to sentence a former Clearwater Middle School teacher for sexually abusing a 15-year-old former student.
In the end, District Judge Terry Pullman concluded “by the narrowest of margins” that Cathleen Balman, 40, would be less likely to re-offend if she were placed in a treatment program rather than be sent to prison for 34 months as prosecutors were recommending.
He placed Balman on probation and ordered her to have no contact with non-relatives under the age of 18.
Balman was a middle school language arts teacher at the time of her arrest in October 2011, and she was fired five days later. She pleaded guilty in February to a felony charge of taking indecent liberties with a child.
Because she had no prior convictions, the charge was in a “border box” on the state’s sentencing grid, which means the law makes no recommendation between probation and imprisonment.
Defense lawyer Philip White said before the sentence was imposed that Balman had lost her teaching license and was being forced to register with the state as a convicted sex offender. He said she was home-schooling a son who has been diagnosed with a form of autism.
“I honestly believe this will never happen again,” he said.
Assistant District Attorney Justin Edwards said he was not convinced.
“I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t know if it will happen again or not,” he said. “The fact remains that she did violate the trust (of a former student). Sometimes there’s a position of authority that requires incarceration when that trust is breached, and this is one of those cases.”
The boy’s mother attended the hearing and said she thought Balman should be sent to jail.
“I hope she understands what she did,” she said.
Balman was then given a chance to address the court.
“It’s truly the biggest regret of my life,” she said. “I’m full of remorse. I take full responsibility for what happened. If given the privilege of probation I can assure you this will never happen again.
“I’d like to apologize to the victim and his family. I am truly sorry.”
Before imposing the sentence, Pullman noted that he had received a strong letter of support from Balman’s husband.
“I am curious about why he’s not here,” he said.
“I asked him not to be here,” Balman said. “He was not happy about it.”
After granting her probation, Pullman said told Balman that if she does re-offend, he will revoke her probation and order her to serve a 34-month prison sentence that will run consecutively to any new sentence she may receive.
“I hope that this is a one-time occurrence,” he said.