was a Mormon church member in Washington; confessed to sexual abuse of his two underage stepdaughters; convicted; Mormon church lost a civil lawsuit and was court ordered to pay the victims $2.5 million

Case Summary

LDS Church told to pay $4.2 million in abuse case

Jury holds the church liable for emotional distress because a bishop did not report the sexual abuse of two girls
By Elizabeth Neff
The Salt Lake Tribune
· November 22, 2005

A Washington state jury has ordered The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to pay at least $2.5 million to two sisters who alleged their bishop failed to protect them from a stepfather who sexually abused them for years.

The church also is on the hook for an additional $1.7 million unless its attorneys can convince a judge that it shouldn’t have to pay for damages related to Peter Taylor, who served just over four years in prison for the crimes.

Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, known for filing similar lawsuits in other states, called the ruling a win for victims often abandoned by church leaders who try to keep sexual abuse under wraps by not reporting it to police.

His client, Jessica Cavalieri, 24, said she hopes the verdict is a wake-up call for the church and a “sign to other victims that they too can have their voices heard.”

Church attorney Von Keetch, however, called Friday’s verdict “a miscarriage of justice,” and said he will encourage church leaders to appeal.

Jurors, he said, were more interested in sending a message than considering the evidence.

Both sides did agree on one thing: The whopping award is the first of its kind in which jurors have held a religious organization liable for a Washington state claim similar to Utah’s intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The case began when Jessica and Ashley Cavalieri filed a lawsuit against the church and Taylor in 2002.

In the lawsuit, Jessica says Taylor began sexually abusing her back in 1988 – a horror that would continue for a decade. When she mustered the courage to tell a friend in junior high, the friend told the ward’s then-bishop, Bruce Hatch.

Hatch invited Jessica and her mother to speak with him, Kosnoff said, telling her mother the meeting was about tension between daughter and stepfather. When Jessica went in alone first, Kosnoff said, Hatch told her to be glad she had not told civil authorities, who would try to destroy her family.

Hatch then spoke with her parents, but never mentioned the abuse, Kosnoff said. Believing her mother had been told, Jessica felt abandoned, she said.

Taylor soon focused his attentions on Ashley, Jessica’s younger sister.

When Jessica confided in a friend about the abuse in an e-mail years later, the friend sent the e-mail to her own parents, who then alerted the current bishop of the ward, Stan Wade.

Wade called the family in for an interview, and Taylor confessed to the abuse, Kosnoff said. Jessica’s mother was then told by the stake president that civil authorities would be alerted, he said.

When Ashley later told their mother Taylor had abused her, the mother called authorities to report a second case. She then realized church leaders had never reported the abuse of Jessica, Kosnoff said.

The lawsuit alleged an LDS social services therapist who discussed the abuse with Jessica also did not report the allegations to police.

Wade and the stake president later refused to cooperate with police investigating the case, Kosnoff said.

Washington laws don’t make clergy mandatory reporters of suspected child sexual abuse. But Kosnoff successfully argued in court that Hatch was acting as a social services counselor when Jessica came to him for help.

The judge on the case allowed that question to go to jurors.

Making clergy subject to the law, said Keetch, is a stretch. Social service counselors are defined as professionals who encourage the welfare of children or provide services to families.

The church also disputes Kosnoff’s version of events. Keetch said Hatch maintained on the witness stand he never had any confirmation that abuse was occurring.

Keetch also points to testimony from several of Jessica’s friends.

One in particular, they said, testified that Jessica had told her she lied to Hatch, denying the abuse when confronted.

The church also points to Jessica’s own e-mail, in which she writes: “When my mom found out I had been abused, do you know what she said, ‘Jessica, you can’t tell anyone. You know how embarrassed Grandma and Grandpa would be. If you want we could go down and file a police report, but then everyone’s life would be ruined.’ So I never did anything.”

Said Keetch, “Our position was Bishop Hatch did not know.”

The church notes several efforts it has taken in recent years to ensure it follows state reporting laws for child sexual abuse.

Chief among them: a toll-free number for its lay clergy to call for information on how to handle allegations of abuse.

Keetch calls any allegation that it is a haven for abusers “ridiculous.”

Jessica said she decided to pursue a lawsuit after realizing her sister, now 19, had been abused and after noticing a “scary trend” in how the church handles sexual abuse cases.

The litigation, she said, was never about money.

“The church has made extremely horrific decisions in my situation and in other situations, and until they start making the right decisions, they are going to be held accountable.”

Jury foreman Steven Webb said the case came down to “whom you believe and what instructions are given to the jury by the judge.”

Ten of the 12 jurors found the testimonies of the plaintiffs and their witnesses more credible than the defense witnesses, he said.

Some jurors had close relatives who are Mormon, he said. Most had religious ties or considered themselves spiritual.

Church attorneys, he said, chose to speak to just two of the jurors following the trial, so Webb expressed dismay at Keetch’s statement that the verdict was flawed.

“To characterize it as a miscarriage of justice, based on the possibility of one or two people saying our motivation was to send a message, is inaccurate and, to a degree, insulting.”

Webb said the verdicts against Taylor were easy.

“Mr. Taylor and those other pedophiles out there need to know we as civilized human beings will not tolerate their heinous actions and they will be punished.”

01/01/88 Washington

LDS Peter Taylor “was accused of and pleaded guilty to sexually abusing his
stepdaughters.” “1[6 According to Jessica, sometime in 1995 she met with Bishop Hatch and
told him her stepfather was sexually abusing her. Jessica testified that she told her friend,
Cherisse Anderson that “[Taylor] was coming into [her] room at night, and abusing [her].”
Cherisse encouraged her to speak to their bishop. Jessica stated that she went to Bishop
Hatch because she “just wanted the abuse to stop. That’s it.” Jessica testified that Bishop
Hatch referred to a conversation with Cherisse in which Cherisse had suggested that Taylor
had been touching Jessica inappropriately. Jessica testified that after some “back and
forth,” she told Bishop Hatch that her stepfather “touched me on my private parts in the
middle of the night, in my bed, and it did make me uncomfortable.”

1f7 According to Jessica, Bishop Hatch responded, “I’m so glad you came and talked to me,
because I don’t have to report it.” Jessica said that Bishop Hatch then talked about another
family in the ward. She testified that he told her “that one of the twin daughters had gone to
the school counselor, and told the school counselor that her dad was abusing her, and the
school counselor reported it to Child [Protective Services], And [then] he said that, Child
[Protective Services] went into the house, the family is losing everything, they are going
bankrupt, and everybody in the ward is gossiping about them.” When asked at trial, Jessica
replied that she knew about the Roberts family at the time “because there were people
talking about it.” She stated that [the] message came across pretty loud and clear when he
said, “I’m so glad you came to me and not to a school counselor, or not to a teacher,” and
so on and so forth, meaning that he wouldn’t have to report it. But, had I gone to somebody
else, they would have reported it. And the situation, what happened to the Roberts family,
would be what would happen to my family. ^[12 In 1998, in an e-mail conversation with a
friend, Jessica disclosed that her stepfather had sexually abused her for a number of years.
The friend notified the new bishop of their LDS ward, Bishop Wade. After being told that
Bishop Wade had been informed of the abuse, Jessica met with him. She begged him not
to report the allegations; he insisted that he had to. According to Jessica’s testimony, she
said, “But Bishop Hatch said he didn’t have to report it.” She stated that Bishop Wade
replied, “Well, he didn’t handle it the right way.” She also said that he encouraged her to tell
her mother so that Taylor would move out of the family home. Bishop Wade indicated that it
would be better if Taylor was not in the house when CPS came. Bishop Wade then
confronted Taylor about the abuse, and Taylor confessed to Wade. See Jane Doe v. Corp.
of President of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 122 Wn. App. 556, 90 P.3d
1147 (2004), review denied, 153 Wn.2d 1025 (2005) (related case finding that Taylor
confessed the abuse to Wade). ”

01/01/07 Washington

Victim Doe (See Peter Taylor 1/01/1988) ” The jury found the LDS Church liable both for
the failure of a bishop to report the abuse of the older sister and for the subsequent abuse
of the younger sister in Doe v COP WA Filed in 2007

The plaintiff was awarded damages in this case by jury verdict, in the amount of $1.2
million, in the state of Washington. This involved two sisters who were abused by their
father, and the jury found the LDS Church liable both for the failure of a bishop to report the
abuse of the older sister and for the subsequent abuse of the younger sister. The jury also
found the LDS Church liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, due to
intimidating statements made by the bishop to the victim.

The Church got hit with another plaintiff’s jury verdict, in the amount of $1.2 million, in

  1. LDS Church told to pay $4.2 million in abuse case
    view source details | 25 Nov 2005 | Salt Lake Tribune
  2. State v. Taylor
    view source details | 2 May 2005 | Case Text
  3. Award Cut in Mormon Church Abuse Case
    view source details | 20 Sep 2007 | The Oklahoman
  4. Award reduced in Mormon church abuse case
    view source details | 17 Sep 2007 | Seattle Times
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  1. view source details | - -
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