On Friday, a jury found that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had done nothing to prevent Peter Taylor, a lay officer in the Federal Way stake (a geographic unit of the church), from sexually molesting his stepdaughter despite knowing about the abuse. The girl's younger sister also was a victim, the jury found.
During the trial, police testified that the church had thwarted their attempts to investigate the charges by shielding clergy and maintaining that any information they might have was secret under a priest-penitent privilege.
"No jury likes people that use religion to cover up for the fact that they were protecting child molesters," said Tim Kosnoff, the plaintiffs' lawyer. "It was clear they wanted to send a message to the Mormon church with this verdict."
Seattle attorney Tom Fry, who represented the church, said he was "shocked and surprised" by the ruling.
"I think the jury got it dead wrong," he said, noting that the court had found that Taylor had not been acting as an officer of the church when he molested his stepdaughters.
"The church abhors any type of child abuse," Fry said.
Church officials have not yet decided whether to appeal.
The church also is on the hook for an additional $1.7 million unless its attorneys can convince a judge that it shouldn't have to pay for damages related to Peter Taylor, who served just over four years in prison for the crimes.
Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, known for filing similar lawsuits in other states, called the ruling a win for victims often abandoned by church leaders who try to keep sexual abuse under wraps by not reporting it to police.
His client, Jessica Cavalieri, 24, said she hopes the verdict is a wake-up call for the church and a "sign to other victims that they too can have their voices heard."
Church attorney Von Keetch, however, called Friday's verdict "a miscarriage of justice," and said he will encourage church leaders to appeal.
Jurors, he said, were more interested in sending a message than considering the evidence.
In the lawsuit, Jessica says Taylor began sexually abusing her back in 1988 - a horror that would continue for a decade. When she mustered the courage to tell a friend in junior high, the friend told the ward's then-bishop, Bruce Hatch.
Hatch invited Jessica and her mother to speak with him, Kosnoff said, telling her mother the meeting was about tension between daughter and stepfather. When Jessica went in alone first, Kosnoff said, Hatch told her to be glad she had not told civil authorities, who would try to destroy her family.
Hatch then spoke with her parents, but never mentioned the abuse, Kosnoff said. Believing her mother had been told, Jessica felt abandoned, she said.
Taylor soon focused his attentions on Ashley, Jessica's younger sister.
When Jessica confided in a friend about the abuse in an e-mail years later, the friend sent the e-mail to her own parents, who then alerted the current bishop of the ward, Stan Wade.
Wade called the family in for an interview, and Taylor confessed to the abuse, Kosnoff said. Jessica's mother was then told by the stake president that civil authorities would be alerted, he said.
When Ashley later told their mother Taylor had abused her, the mother called authorities to report a second case. She then realized church leaders had never reported the abuse of Jessica, Kosnoff said.
The lawsuit alleged an LDS social services therapist who discussed the abuse with Jessica also did not report the allegations to police.
Wade and the stake president later refused to cooperate with police investigating the case, Kosnoff said.
Washington laws don't make clergy mandatory reporters of suspected child sexual abuse. But Kosnoff successfully argued in court that Hatch was acting as a social services counselor when Jessica came to him for help.
The judge on the case allowed that question to go to jurors.
Making clergy subject to the law, said Keetch, is a stretch. Social service counselors are defined as professionals who encourage the welfare of children or provide services to families.
The church also disputes Kosnoff's version of events. Keetch said Hatch maintained on the witness stand he never had any confirmation that abuse was occurring.
Keetch also points to testimony from several of Jessica's friends.
One in particular, they said, testified that Jessica had told her she lied to Hatch, denying the abuse when confronted.
The church also points to Jessica's own e-mail, in which she writes: "When my mom found out I had been abused, do you know what she said, 'Jessica, you can't tell anyone. You know how embarrassed Grandma and Grandpa would be. If you want we could go down and file a police report, but then everyone's life would be ruined.' So I never did anything."
Said Keetch, "Our position was Bishop Hatch did not know."
The church notes several efforts it has taken in recent years to ensure it follows state reporting laws for child sexual abuse.
Chief among them: a toll-free number for its lay clergy to call for information on how to handle allegations of abuse.
Keetch calls any allegation that it is a haven for abusers "ridiculous."
Date: Jan 09 20:25
Author: Tim Kosnoff
Mail Address: [email protected]
We filed suit a couple of hours ago in Multnomah County Circuit Court, Portland, OR on behalf of twelve men who were sexually abused by Frank Curtis, the same High Priest and Primary Teacher who abused Jeremiah Scott. The allegations against the Mormon Church are similar to those made in Scott regarding the Church's longstanding knowledge and concealment of the child sexual abuse.
We expect there will be news coverage in the Utah press and elsewhere tomorrow. Feel free to call me tomorrow at 425-637-3070 or email me anytime if you have any questions.
Subject: I hope you take that scumsucking trash to the cleaners
Date: Jan 10 08:21
I hope you lower the boom on those bastards. It couldn't happen to a more deserving group of people. You realize that the Mormon PR machine is a well-greased association of professional liars with alot of money. Mormons are seasoned Pros at lying and twisting the truth(over 170 years of experience), so you have your hands full. Good luck!
Today, Scott's mother made a statement describing the Mormon Church as a, "sanctuary for pedophiles. The church is so concerned about its public image," Sandra Scott charged, "that it hide the truth from me that it had recycled a known pedophile into a position of authority in the church where he had unlimited access to young children." Scott's legal team hailed the settlement as, "the first big step for one victim in the long struggle to expose the Mormon Church's epidemic pattern of providing a safe and secret haven for child molesters."
In a statement attacking the pretrial rulings of Multnomah County Circuit Judge Ellen Rosenblum, the church stated that it paid Scott $3,000,000.00 only because it would have cost "significantly more in legal fees and other costs" to continue with the litigation. "Nothing could be further from the truth," responded one of Scott's attorneys, Timothy Kosnoff of Bellevue, Washington. "The Mormon Church settled this case because they knew any jury would be outraged by the proof that the church had known for years that Franklin Curtis was a serial pedophile. The church not only venerated Curtis as a High Priest, but it made him a scout leader and Sunday School teacher -- and then hid the fact that he was a molester from the whole congregation."
Ken Fleming, 42, said he brought the case against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because he wanted to hold officials accountable for turning a blind eye as family after family reported that Jack Loholt, the leader of a church-sponsored Boy Scout troop, had molested their children.
Tim Kosnoff, the attorney representing Fleming, said this wide-cast net allows more potential child abusers to gain the authority and respect accorded to clerics. The attorney, who has brought numerous sexual abuse cases against the Catholic Church, is involved with at least seven involving Mormons here and in Utah. Washington state has the fourth-highest Mormon population in the country.
"It's more or less the same thing you see in the Catholic Church," Kosnoff said.
"Except that I think it's much worse because there's a far greater number and all of these men are held out as clergylike, worthy of the highest respect and trust, with an imprimatur of moral worthiness."
For years the Mormon Church has been a safe haven for child molesters. It is time for the Mormon Church to take responsibility for the injuries to scores of children that itÃ?Â¢Ã¢?Â¬Ã¢?Â¢s clergy has perpetrated. Attorneys Jeffrey Anderson, Timothy Kosnoff, and David Slader organized the Victims of Mormon Sexual Abuse Project to help those victims.
I imagine our critics are going to have a good time with this.