Missoulian.com Describes Watchtower’s Appeal in Nunez Abuse Case

We recently posted Watchtower’s appeal in response to the court’s judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The following post provides the Missoulian’s (the local newspaper) exceptional review and report of the local response to that filing. We rarely see such quality and thoroughness from small market news reporting, but Seaborn Larson continues to excel in this latest update.

Jehovah’s Witnesses appeal $30 million jury awarded damages in sex abuse case

“The Jehovah’s Witnesses church has appealed the $30 million punitive damages award handed down by a jury to a Thompson Falls woman who claimed church officials covered up prior abuses by a congregation member who molested her for years.

The Thompson Falls congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, along with the church’s highest offices — called the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York and the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses — filed its appeal brief last week with the state Supreme Court, noting the punitive damages award was one of the largest by a Montana jury in the state’s history. 

The church asks the high court to overturn Sanders County District Judge James Manley’s pretrial ruling that the church was negligent went it failed to report earlier abuses by Maximo Reyes against a girl in the congregation. Elders in Thompson Falls did “disfellowship” Reyes from the congregation but reinstated him about a year later, in June 2005.

After his return, Alexis Nunez, then an 8-year-old girl, would later tell elders Reyes sexually assaulted her on a near-weekly basis for the next two years.

The Missoulian typically does not name victims of sexual assault. Nunez, however, agreed to allow the Missoulian to use her name.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are also appealing Manley’s ruling that Montana’s statutory cap on punitive damages — which sets limits at $10 million or 3% of a defendant’s net worth, whichever is less — is unconstitutional. The cap was set in place by the state Legislature, but Manley’s ruling isn’t the first to reject that maximum set by lawmakers. The argument has not yet been heard in the state Supreme Court, and could become the centerpiece of this case.

Sanders County District Courthouse
After a three-day trial in Sanders County in September 2018, a jury awarded a woman $35 million for the trauma she suffered at the hands of a Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation member.

Attorneys for the church argue that eliminating that maximum violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the right to due process. Some states, including Washington, don’t even allow punitive damages. In this case, Nunez was awarded $4 million in compensatory damages, then another $31 million in punitive damages. Attorneys for the church in their appeal called the punitive damage amount “staggering,” “excessive,” “shocking” and “unlawful.”

Cynthia Ford, law professor who teaches a remedies class at the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, said punitive damages can make an example out of bad actors and wealthy institutions.

“Punitive damages are not very often awarded so it’s a really high standard to even get them,” Ford said. The idea is basically “to prevent them from doing the same thing again and to serve as a lesson to other similarly situated defendants. It’s sending a warning.”

The argument against the cap, she said, is that it would violate the Sixth Amendment rights of the plaintiff. When a jury hashes out what damages the defendant owes the plaintiffs, they are not told or instructed to keep it under that cap; they’re not even told about it. So if a jury awards an amount higher than that cap, but the statute reduces the amount, that can be argued as a violation of a person’s right to a jury trial.

Tort reforms to limit or eliminate such punitive damages, Ford said, have been propelled largely by insurance companies for the last 30 or 40 years.

Montana lawmakers, Ford said, came up with a compromise. After setting the cap, the statute allows punitive damages “for the purpose of punishing a defendant,” but only in certain cases, and not in cases of breach of contract, for example. As to where to draw the line on punitive damages, in light of dueling constitutional rights — “That’s the issue the Montana Supreme Court is going to look at,” Ford said.

In the other part of the appeal, attorneys for the Jehovah’s Witnesses say they should not have been found negligent, because they they could not have violated Montana’s mandatory reporter statute because church elders are not mandatory reporters when such information is offered in confession.

In 2004, Reyes was confronted by the elders and subsequently disfellowshipped after admitting to the abuses. He was reinstated a year later, and in 2012 elders learned Nunez had been abused for years.
Attorneys for Nunez argued last year that the confessional exception to the mandatory reporter law shouldn’t apply here, because Reyes was not in confession when he admitted to the abuses. 

But the church argues in its appeal that its legal department at Watchtower, the church’s headquarters in New York, had looked into state law and determined that Montana’s mandatory reporting law didn’t apply to this case because they only learned of Reyes’ abuses years after he had committed them. At the time, no one was in immediate danger, so Watchtower attorneys told the elders in Thompson Falls to deal with the matter internally. 

Critics of the church’s policy said the Thompson Falls ruling was another example in the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ worldwide reckoning in covering up sexual abuse within its keep. By the church’s own policy, reports of abuse are to be forwarded to the legal department in the church’s highest office, which in turn directs congregation elders to conduct proceedings internally and not report these crimes to authorities.

The second part of policy criticized by authorities, attorneys in this case and former church members is the “two-witness rule,” which requires an allegation of abuse to be bolstered by two witnesses before leadership takes any action.

This rule is taken from scripture.

“Christ Jesus establishes that there have to be two witnesses,” senior church official Gary Breaux said in a morning worship video posted online. “We will never change our scriptural position on that subject.”

Nunez’s attorneys have 60 days to file their response brief with the state Supreme Court.

Read the appeal documents as delivered to the court – Click Here


Published May 28, 2019 / Barbara Anderson

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As a UK citizen and “fading” JW, I find it totally incredible that the U.S. legal system has not been provided with INTERNAL proof from the WTBTS itself which proves that they are LYING to judges & juries in order to avoid financial losses. The BLATANT lies are:
1) Jehovah’s Witnesses do NOT have and has NEVER claimed to have a clergy.*
2) Jehovah’s Witnesses do NOT practice clergy-penitent privilege/confidentiality, because if a JW admits a sin to ONE elder, that elder will then inform the other elders, who will in turn instigate a Judicial Committee – which is in effect a secret trial. AFTER WHICH, the details will be sent to OTHERS at the country’s BRANCH OFFICE Service Department. This cannot be classed as “confidential.”
3) The WTBTS does NOT strictly apply the “two witness” rule to every allegation. They instruct elders to ASSUME that fornication has occurred between two individuals – based on the fact that they spent a night together in the SAME PREMISES.
*w06 3/1 p. 5 – “a clergy class—ideas borrowed from pagan religions and philosophers.”
w94 2/15 p. 7 Are Jehovah’s Witnesses a Cult? (LOL!) “Jehovah’s Witnesses…reject the concept of a clergy-laity distinction.”
w94 5/1 p. 25 par. 19 – “They (JW’s) never had a clergy class..“
w90 2/1 p. 13 par. 16 – “an unscriptural clergy class developed. “
w84 8/15 p. 12 par. 10 – “That mandate was given to all Christians, not to a select clergy class.
w83 9/15 p. 6 – With the rise of the apostasy foretold by the apostles, a clergy class developed.
w83 9/15 p. 13 par. 12 ‘Quietly Bringing in Destructive Sects” (LOL) – “the apostate Christian clergy class, was fully “revealed.” It has continued on down through the centuries in all the churches and sects of Christendom that have a special ministry or clerical class.”
w81 4/1 p. 15 – “Jehovah’s Witnesses have for years followed the direction of the Founder of Christianity that “all you are brothers,” and have no clergy class among them.”