Snake house: Teacher pleads guilty to animal cruelty charge

A Newport Beach school teacher arrested earlier this year on suspicion of hoarding and neglecting hundreds of snakes pleaded guilty Thursday to one misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.

In January, animal control officers found at least 400 snakes inside William Buchman's Santa Ana home, the Daily Pilot reported.

About 240 of the non-venomous pythons were dead or died soon after being collected from the house, and more than 150 of the still-living snakes were malnourished, authorities said at the time.

After Buchman's guilty plea, an Orange County Superior Court judge sentenced him to three years of probation and 100 hours of community service, according to online court records.

The Orange County District Attorney's office originally charged Buchman with felony animal abuse, a charge that could carry a three-year prison term.

But, as part of a plea agreement, prosecutors reduced the charge to a misdemeanor, according to Buchman's lawyer, Paul Meyer.

Meyer said Buchman kept the snakes as a hobby, but he lost control of the situation after his mother -- whom he took care of -- died.

"The depression paralyzed him and he tragically neglected the reptiles in his care," Meyer said.

Since his arrest, Buchman has donated all his reptile equipment, given $1,000 to animal rescue groups and remodeled his home, according to his lawyer.

"He's no longer involved in animals," Meyer said.

At the time of his arrest, Buchman was a teacher at Mariners Elementary School in Newport Beach. A spokesperson for the Newport-Mesa Unified School District could not immediately confirm if he still worked there.

Jeremiah Dobruck writes for Times Community News.

Follow @jeremiahdobruck on Twitter or email jeremiah.dobruck2@latimes.com.