Fifth man alleges sexual abuse at Placer congregation

Auburn Journal/January 19, 2004
By Ryan McCarthy

A fifth man is contending in court documents that he was sexually abused as a youth at a Jehovah's Witness congregation in Placer County.

The filing at the Historic Courthouse in Auburn by the plaintiff identified by a first name and last initial follows a lawsuit by four men in November alleging sexual misconduct. The allegation involves the same unnamed defendant beginning in the 1980s and continuing for a decade at Jehovah's Witnesses congregations in Loomis and Rocklin.

Mario Moreno, associate general counsel for Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in New York, said Friday that the Jehovah's Witnesses organization has not yet received the new case.

But Moreno said the religious organization has generally prevailed in lawsuits involving allegations of sexual abuse.

"So far the plaintiffs are not doing well," Moreno said.

The new case includes allegations that the plaintiff was repeatedly fondled in a Kingdom Hall bathroom as a 14-year-old.

The Jehovah's Witnesses disfellowshiped the alleged abuser - an action akin to excommunication - for having a "poor attitude," but took no other steps to hold him accountable or notify members and families of children, according to the suit.

Attorney Moreno said that the religious organization is pretty sure who the defendant is and that at the time of the alleged molestation he was a minor and never in a leadership position.

He remains a church member, is not in a leadership position and - unrelated to the abuse allegations - has since moved out of California, Moreno said.

"Nobody gets disfellowed for having a 'poor attitude,'" the attorney added. Serious sin without repentance brings disfellowship, he said.

Attorney William Brelsford is with the Sacramento law firm Nolen Saul Brelsford, which has brought the lawsuits against the local Jehovah's Witnesses congregations. Of New York attorney Moreno's statements that the religious organization is prevailing legally on sexual abuse cases, Brelsford said, "I don't know what's going on in other states."

But cases filed in California involving the Jehovah's Witnesses have yet to be resolved, Brelsford said.

The Sacramento firm also filed suits this summer against Jehovah's Witnesses congregations in Napa, Yolo and Tehama counties involving allegations of sexual abuse.

The unnamed defendant in the Placer County cases was a minor at the time of the alleged offenses, Brelsford said.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, in a statement provided after the first lawsuits were filed in the fall, had said that the defendant was a minor at the time abuses allegedly took place and not in any position of responsibility.

"From a spiritual standpoint we're concerned either way," the attorney, who is a Jehovah's Witness, said of allegations of abuse.

The defendant's status as a minor is important legally, Moreno added, because no court has held religious organizations liable for the actions of one member with another. Churches are not expected to monitor how believers behave with one another, the attorney said.

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