March 18, 2008

James Phillips pleads not guilty to molesting 2 girls

By Jose Luis Jimenez, Union-Tribune

March 18, 2008

EL CAJON -- A youth softball and basketball coach pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Superior Court to charges of molesting two girls. James Russell Phillips, 41, is accused of groping the girls - ages 11 and 13 - and attempting to kiss them on the lips over the past year, prosecutor Claudia Grasso said during a brief hearing.

Phillips currently faces four counts of lewd and lascivious acts against a minor, and if convicted, he could be sent to prison for 15 years to life, Grasso said in an interview.

Sheriff's detectives are in the process of interviewing other possible victims, including some that played for Phillips, which could lead to more charges, Grasso told the judge. "Other potential victims are girls he has coached in the past," Grasso said. "We already have the names of the potential victims. We are still investigating."

Phillips was arrested Thursday on Harbison Canyon Road in Dehesa. He has coached youth teams in Ramona and Julian for the past four years, according to sheriff's officials. Sheriff's officials said previously that Phillips may have molested as many as six children between the ages of 9 to 13 from October 2004 to January. The coach initially cooperated with the investigation and admitted one child's allegations, the officials said.

Phillips' court-appointed defense attorney argued Tuesday that his client's bail should be reduced from $900,000. The lawyer contended that Phillips' lack of a criminal record and the 40 years he has lived in San Diego County show he does not pose a danger to the community if released. Judge Patricia K. Cookson disagreed and declined to lower bail.