A Napa County judge may hear lawsuits contending the Jehovah's Witnesses covered up acts of child molestation by a Sonoma County church official in the 1980s.
A judge ordered three Sonoma County cases coordinated with lawsuits against the church in five other Northern California counties, all alleging that Jehovah's Witness leaders sexually abused children of church members.
All of the lawsuits now could be heard at a single trial in Napa.
Attorneys for the church were expected to ask a Sonoma County judge today to dismiss one of the local cases, but the hearing was canceled.
Next month, Napa County Superior Court Judge Scott Snowden will hold a hearing to determine how the cases will proceed. The 11 lawsuits against the church were filed in Sonoma, Napa, Monterey, Placer, Tehama and Yolo counties.
Snowden is expected to handle pre-trial proceedings in Napa, but it's unclear whether he'll order a single trial or separate ones.
The Sonoma County cases were filed on behalf of eight people who claim they were sexually abused as children by Donald Glew, a former Jehovah's Witness official who was convicted of child molestation in 1989.
Glew, now 53, was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The acts took place in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, where Glew counseled church members and supervised child care operations, according to the complaints. The suits allege the church knew about crimes but took no action to stop Glew. The church also prevented victims' families from reporting the crimes to police, the plaintiffs alleged.
Attorneys for the church said Glew never held a position of authority and the Jehovah's Witnesses aren't responsible for his actions. They said there's no evidence the church knew of Glew's activities.
The lawsuits name two Sonoma County congregations of Jehovah's Witnesses and the church's national organization, known as the Watchtower Society.
Bill Brelsford, a Sacramento attorney who represents the plaintiffs, said he asked that the 11 cases be coordinated because they deal with the same issues and same national church organization.
He said different church leaders are alleged to have molested children in the other five counties.
Last week, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Thomas Warriner ruled that the 11 cases should be coordinated and he assigned them to the Napa judge.
Bob Schnack, a Sacramento attorney who represents the Jehovah's Witnesses, said the church will seek separate trials because the lawsuits involve different alleged victims and perpetrators. He said it would be unfair to have a single trial in all the cases.
Link to the article:
Note the second artticle on records this may have a bearing on this case and others,
This ruling in California has major implications for the JWs......
Ruling could give records of 2 ex-priests to grand jury
The Associated Press
September 9th, 2004
LOS ANGELES -- A judge Wednesday ordered the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese to surrender confidential records of two former priests as part of a clergy sex abuse investigation.
Thomas F. Nuss, a retired state judge appointed to review church personnel records subpoenaed by a county grand jury, said the Archdiocese of Los Angeles cannot withhold potential evidence or proof of clerical sex abuse by claiming communications between priests and bishops are confidential.
In weighing the balance between private personnel files and potential evidence of abuse, Nuss wrote in his 32-page ruling that the subpoenas don't "have as a principal or primary effect the inhibition of religion."
The judge delayed implementation of the ruling for 30 days to allow time for possible appeals. The archdiocese said it would challenge the ruling. A lawyer for the priests also said he expected to appeal.
Prosecutors said the records could produce a paper trail of potential evidence involving the two former priests, who were not identified.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley called the ruling "a major legal victory, with national implications, for victims of church sex abuse and a rejection of a so-called First Amendment "confidentiality privilege" which the court found does not exist."
Cooley said prosecutors have contended that "assertion of the pastoral privilege must give way to a more compelling interest. That interest is the prosecution of anyone, regardless of their status, who would molest children."
Prosecutors subpoenaed about 2,000 pages of personnel files and other confidential church records since 2002. Most of those subpoenas were dismissed in July because they dealt with allegations that fell beyond the statute of limitations.