Dorian Hargrove of the San Diego Reader reported on January 12, 2018 that “…A lawsuit is now settled between a former victim of sexual abuse and Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Irwin Zalkin, Jose Lopez’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication of Hargrove’s article.
The court’s website describes the case status as being defined as a “conditional settlement” and the terms and conditions have not been made available to the public. There is no word yet whether Padron’s case has also been settled. A hearing is scheduled for next month.
José Lopez filed his lawsuit back in 2012. Gonzalo Campos, an elder in the Linda Vista Kingdom Hall, molested him and several other young children who were members of that Jehovah’s Witness congregation. Campos, who fled to Mexico to escape criminal charges, admitted to committing the acts involving Lopez and another victim while giving testimony in one of the cases.
According to the San Diego Reader “…five other alleged victims sued the Watchtower and Bible and Tract Society of New York, the governing body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, over the molestation by Campos and the Watchtower’s refusal to act.”
That case settled for an undisclosed amount in 2012, the same year that Lopez filed his lawsuit and a year before another victim, Osbaldo Padron, filed his. In 2015, a state court judge ruled that the Watchtower had failed to cooperate with discovery in the Lopez case. The judge awarded a $13.5 million judgment in favor of Lopez.
The Watchtower later appealed the decision and managed to get the decision rescinded and promised to produce the requested documents.
Meanwhile, a fight over documents was also occurring in Padron’s case, the one filed shortly after Lopez’s lawsuit. At issue was Watchtower’s refusal to turn over a letter from headquarters that asked for the names of alleged sexual abusers in the church. The Linda Vista Kingdom Hall elders had previously released other documents which showed the congregation and Watchtower headquarters were aware that Campos had sexually assaulted young boys and a girl – but still considered him eligible to return to the congregation.
In 1999, one of the elders involved in the case wrote to Watchtower’s New York headquarters sharing their opinion of Campos:
“In our meeting with him, he said he was very repentant for what he did. He stated that he wanted to return to Jehovah. He is willing to face the victims and ask their forgiveness. He now wants to obey Jehovah. Before, when he would speak to people on the platform he would not meditate on what he was doing. Although he needed to confess, he felt shameful and had fear of mankind. He would deceive himself thinking that he could continue serving as an elder. Now he realized that he could not change without help. Ever since his expulsion, he has not abused anyone. He has read articles of the publications regarding his sin. He says he does not see or read pornographic information. He stated that ever since expulsion he has worked on having a relationship with Jehovah and the expulsion has served to strengthen him spiritually. He does not miss meetings, and he even takes notes of the program. He also said that he is willing to continue accepting Jehovah’s discipline.”
While the two sides continued to fight over discovery in the Lopez case, another judge issued sanctions against the Watchtower for refusing to turn over documents in the Padron case. The Watchtower also appealed that decision.
In reports previously published by the Reader, in November 2017 an appellate court rejected the appeal, sending the case back to state court and keeping the $4000-per-day sanctions in place.
Padron’s case, apparently unsettled, will likely be heading back to state court. A hearing has been scheduled for March 2018. However, attorneys for Lopez and Watchtower agreed to settle the Lopez case.
Lopez’s attorney, Irwin Zalkin, did not respond to the reporter’s request for comment prior to the publication of the San Diego Reader article.