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Recent articles about Lawsuits
Two recent articles about California lawsuits

Lawsuits allege Jehovah's Witnesses abuse

WOODLAND -- Three former members of the Woodland congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses have filed a civil lawsuit against the church, claiming officials there failed to discipline and even promoted the church leader who allegedly molested them.

The suit was filed July 24 in Yolo Superior Court on behalf of Daniel West, Amber Pence and Shane Pence, all of whom said they were sexually molested while in the care of adolescent book studies leader Timothy Silva.

Sacramento attorney Bill Brelsford alleges in the suit that Jehovah's Witness church officials "engaged in a systematic pattern and practice" of suppressing information to conceal incidents of child molestation from both law enforcement and the church's own membership for more than a decade.

The suit also alleges that church officials in Woodland not only failed to discipline Silva when complaints about him arose starting in 1987, but appointed him to a higher position of authority and allowed him continued unsupervised access to children.

"This predator used his appointed position of leadership with authority over children to gain access to and abuse these children," the suit says.

In published reports about the lawsuits, church officials have denied the allegations in the various lawsuits.

The suit filed in Yolo County gave an address for Silva of Third Street in Woodland, but a resident there said Thursday that Silva had moved just over a year ago. Other attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

Brelsford said the alleged molests began in 1990, when Amber Pence, now 22, said she was molested by Silva at the age of 13. Daniel West, now 26, says Silva molested him from 1991 to 1993, starting at age 14. Shane Pence, Amber's 18-year-old brother, reported being abused from 1992 to 1997, starting at age 7.

All three plaintiffs say they reported the alleged molests to church authorities, but they took no action to discipline Silva or prevent future molests from occurring. In West's case, church officials allegedly accused him of participating in homosexual activity, "thereby exacerbating his trauma," the suit says.

The plaintiffs also said they were instructed to keep the matters "within the organization" and not disclose them to outside authorities.

But the Pence family apparently eventually took their complaints to police, who according to court records arrested Silva in 2000 on suspicion of molesting Shane Pence. Records show Silva was convicted in September 2001 of lewd and lascivious acts on a child under age 14 and sentenced to probation.

Charges were not filed in the other children's cases because the statute of limitations had expired, Brelsford said.

The three plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress, embarrassment, loss of self-esteem, lost earning capacity and expenses they have incurred for medical and psychological treatment, the suit says.

A status conference for the case has been scheduled for Dec. 28 before Judge Thomas Warriner. Brelsford said it could be a year and a half or more before the case goes to trial.

-- Reach Lauren Keene at

Friday, August 1, 2003

SF Gate        Return to regular view

Jehovah's Witnesses hit with rash of sex-abuse suits
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Thursday, July 31, 2003
©2003 San Francisco Chronicle | Feedback


Eight former members of the Jehovah's Witnesses have filed lawsuits in three Northern California counties alleging that they were sexually molested as children and that their church covered up the crimes.

The lawsuits against the church and its congregations in Yolo, Napa and Tehama counties seek unspecified damages against two individuals and several organizations affiliated with the religious group.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, famous for promoting its "Watchtower" religious tracts on city streets and door-to-door, is a Christian millenarian sect that arose in the wake of the "Great Disappointment" of the 1840s, when several predictions about the end of the world failed to come to pass.

Members hold views different from those most Christian churches preach, most notably their denial of the Trinity and their belief that only 144,000 true believers will achieve full sainthood when the world does end.

The allegations against the Jehovah's Witnesses are similar to those leveled against the Roman Catholic Church in numerous lawsuits filed in California and across the country in recent years.

The legal assault -- coordinated and filed last week by the Sacramento law firm of Nolen Saul

Brelsford -- is the latest action under a new state law that temporarily abolishes the statute of limitations on lawsuits dealing with child abuse cases, making it easier to collect money from churches, schools and other organizations with a history of sexual abuse.

Because they deal with civil law, the lawsuits against Jehovah's Witnesses are not bound by last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law used to prosecute priests and other alleged child molesters accused of decades-old abuse.

In Yolo County, the lawsuit was brought by Daniel West, 26; Shane Pence, 18;

and Amber Pence, 23.

All three plaintiffs say they were molested by Timothy Silva, who led "adolescent book studies" at the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Woodland.

"This sexual predator used his appointed position of leadership and authority over children to gain access to and abuse those children," the lawsuit states.

Paul Polidoro, the associate general counsel for the Jehovah's Witnesses, said the staff at the church headquarters in New York had not yet seen the lawsuit and had no comment on the specific allegations.

"The majority of these lawsuits are parishioner-on-parishioner incidents," Polidoro said.

Silva, who, according to plaintiffs' attorney William Brelsford, was convicted in 1995 of lewd and lascivious behavior with a minor, could not be reached for comment.

"Our local congregations and national organization take child abuse quite seriously," Polidoro said. "Child abuse allegations are reported to (the) authorities if they occur."

Not so, the lawsuit charges.

It alleges that church leaders were told that West had been molested from 1991, when he was 13 years old, through 1993.

"Watchtower defendants did not notify authorities nor take any steps to hold (Silva) accountable," the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit goes on to charge that the church exacerbated the trauma to West by accusing him "of participating in homosexual activity."

The complaint also alleges that one of the other plaintiffs, Shane Pence, was 7 years old when Silva "committed continued and repeated sexual battery" on the boy for five years, until 1997.

"His mother reported the abuse to the Watchtower defendants," the suit states, and was told not to contact the police herself, that the church would take care of the problem.

"Watchtower defendants did not report the abuse to authorities and took no steps to address it," the lawsuit charges.

The only other named, living perpetrator in the four lawsuits filed last week is convicted child molester James Henderson of Red Bluff, who, Brelsford said, is alleged to have molested then-15-year-old plaintiff "Tim W." in 1994.

Daniel Hall, who left the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1992 and now runs a "counter-cult" ministry in Sacramento, said the tightly controlled nature of the sect made it even harder for children and adults to speak out against sexual abuse.

"These children have been living in fear and are just coming out," said Hall.

Hall is working with another former Jehovah's Witness, William Bowen, who has an extensive Web site ( devoted to the abuse problem in the sect.

Bowen's Web site, which includes a SilentLambs store selling coffee mugs and T-shirts with the group's logo, reports that "inside sources" at the headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York have revealed secret files with the names of 23,720 accused child molesters.

Hall and Bowen will be among the speakers Aug. 8-10 at a weekend conference about cults and sects being held at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Marin County.

Hall described the conference as a "gathering of people who have come out of these groups and become Christians."

Polidoro said he was insulted by Hall's ministry and Bowen's allegations.

"We are a well-established religion that has been in this country for a century," he said. "It's somewhat offensive when someone uses the word 'cult' to describe your religion."

E-mail Don Lattin at

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