A Pierce County judge has ruled against moving the trial of a civil suit against Donald Barnett, the pastor of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center, and Jack McDonald, the former pastor of a satellite church in Tacoma.
Judge Gary Steiner also denied the defense's request for a several-month delay in the trial date for McDonald, but he did change the date from April 18 to May 18, to allow new lawyers for McDonald time to prepare.
Attorneys for McDonald and Barnett said in a Superior Court hearing Friday that recent extensive newspaper and television coverage of the troubled Burien church had saturated the Puget Sound area with prejudicial pretrial publicity and that a fair trial could not be held there.
But Daniel Hannula, attorney for the former Community Chapel member who filed the suit, said the church brought the publicity on itself with its scandals and recent infighting.
The suit filed in 1986 by Carol Gabrielson and her former husband alleges that McDonald misused his pastoral role as a counselor to manipulate Gabrielson into having sex with him.
Gabrielson maintains that Barnett's controversial teachings on ``spiritual connections'' encouraged such sexual liaisons between people not married to each other, and resulted in seductions and marital breakups.
The suit, which alleges sexual assault and ministerial malpractice, also names the Community Chapel, the satellite church in Tacoma and the two pastors' wives. McDonald was dismissed from his church post last year. Barnett was dismissed from his post a few weeks ago by church elders, but reinstated through a court order.
In other action yesterday, the judge kept Barnett's pretrial testimony - supposedly about his sexual relationships with women - sealed pending the outcome of a hearing April 15. At that hearing, the judge will rule on what kinds of evidence can be submitted at the trial and defense attorneys will ask the judge to dismiss both Barnett and his wife from the suit.
Barnett himself faces similar accusations in other lawsuits filed by three former members of his church. The suits accuse him of sexually assaulting the plaintiffs under the guise of ministerial counseling.