26 Mar 2008

Jehovah's Witnesses elders must testify in Murrieta molestation case, judge rules

The Press-Enterprise - California

March 25, 2006

by Tammy McCoy

Leaders of a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation must reveal what a Murrieta man suspected of molesting two girls told them, despite their claims the conversation were protected by clergy confidentiality, a judge ruled Tuesday.

The congregation leaders must testify in the man's trial on child-molestation charges, said Riverside County Judge F. Paul Dickerson.

The defense attorney says he will appeal.

Experts say the ruling raises compelling legal questions.

"It is an interesting legal issue that does need to be clarified by the court," said Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

She said an appeals court could decide if the law should extend beyond a traditional confession into this type of hearing.

California law protects statements made to clergy members who are required by their faith's practices to keep them secret.

In his ruling, Dickerson said testimony from Elder Andrew Sinay showed the Jehovah's Witnesses' judicial committee system is not designed to keep information confidential.

Dickerson said this was not a case where Gilbert Simental went to the elders seeking forgiveness or guidance.

"This was the opposite," he said. "It was more like a third-party investigation into immoral conduct."

In this case, the judge said, the elders' duty was to determine guilt and to protect the congregation, not to keep the communications under wraps.

"It's an investigative, fact-finding body without regard for confidentiality," he said. "This was a tribunal designed to protect the congregation."

Dickerson's ruling came in response to prosecutor Burke Strunsky's request to force the elders to testify. Jury selection is already under way in Simental's trial at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.

"This case highlights the perils of interpreting this privilege in an overly broad fashion," Strunsky said.

Simental, 49, is charged with molesting two of his daughter's friends when they came to his home for sleepovers between July 2005 and July 2006, according to court papers. The girls are sisters who were 9 and 10 at the time, the records show.

The Press-Enterprise does not publish the names of minors who are believed to have been victims of sexual abuse.

After the ruling, defense attorney Miles Clark said he will appeal Dickerson's decision.

"My client relied on the elders to keep his statements confidential," Clark said.

Jehovah's Witnesses should not be treated differently from members of other faiths simply because their practices are different, he said.

Clark said Simental's statements to the judicial committee should be treated the way the statements a Roman Catholic makes to a priest in a confessional are.

During the hearing at the Southwest Justice Center, prosecutor Strunsky questioned Sinay about the congregation's practices and how information obtained during a judicial committee is handled.

Sinay said they share information obtained during judicial committee proceedings with the Jehovah's Witnesses office in New York and with committees that are called on in an appellate capacity.

Strunsky also questioned the parents of the two girls.

The girls' parents testified that after the children came to their mother with their allegations, she met with Sinay and Elder John Vaughn, who agreed they would inform the couple of the outcome of the inquiry.

The girls' mother testified that Sinay later told her that Simental had made a full confession.

While Sinay did not provide her with a verbatim confession, she said Sinay did tell her that Simental had confessed.

Clark asked whether Sinay ever said that Simental had confessed to molesting her daughters.

The woman said he did not use the word "molest" during their conversation.

The girls' father testified that during a meeting with Sinay, Vaughn and another elder, he was also told that Simental confessed during a judicial committee meeting.

The elders also told the father that Simental had never done this before and was no danger to the community, he said.

If convicted of all charges, Simental faces 45 years to life in prison.

Simental is charged with a similar allegation in another criminal case. That case is currently awaiting trial.

He is free on $1 million bail.

Staff writer Jessica Logan contributed to this report.

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  1. Three elders sit on a Judicial Committee, hear a confession, then render a verdict. That automatically negates true confidentiality which is only one-to-one, that is one confessor to one listening clergy.

    Later the Judicial Committee sends a report copy of its hearing and verdict to headquarters where it can and does come under eyes of still more people such as attorneys


    In 2006-2007 courts in California ruled:

    1. the organization is responsible for the misconduct of its Elders and Ministerial Servants, i.e. clergymen

    2. the organization does not enjoy Ecclesiastical Privilege for keeping its Judicial Committee records confidential and away from the discovery process

    3. clergy are appointed by Watchtower; and all other truly major decisions must be approved by Watchtower, records are filed with it, etc.

    The responsibility is both legal and financial and owes to facts such as that the organization’s clergy class are appointed and disciplined from top-down, all local properties are ultimately owned by the organization. The lack of Eccelesiastical Privilege throwing wide open access to the organization’s Judicial Committee records is due to the organization not having confessions from its pedophiles et al. on a one-to-one (confessing sinner to one clergyman) basis but instead requiring confessions heard by a whole group of Elders convened as a Judicial Committee and causing even more persons to be informed more by mailing records to be seen at the world headquarters facilities in New York.
    By failing to acknowledge the problem, investigate vigorously and cooperate with criminal law enforcement authorities, the Watchtower Society has failed to protect its own children from sexual predators.”

    Watchtower has also had to pay out enormous sums of money already to many victims successfully sued by Love And Norris: Confirm by seeing http://www.silentlambs.org/APpresscoverage.htm

  2. Growning up in the J.W. religon and knowing about the committes is one thing but when a committe allows my brother who raped and sexual abused me my whole life and he sits up there ad is a M.S. and i am deisfellowshiped and shuned,well he gets all the glory would only show the world what kind of religon claims to be the true religon, why would a god want his follers to commit such sins that the bible and they preach about to be wrong but they protect the abuser and the victum is made to fell it is there fault...well i am telling all the victms it is not you and the only reason they want you to belive it is you is because you are no longer under there control,As for my brother Miguel Pagan of Lake Elsinore you will get your in due time like the bible that you preach, As for me Michelle Englehart (Pagan), am free of all he mind control and know that nothing that Miguel did to me as a child is my fault and if there is a god lets pray his true will stop hypicrticalness and stop covering up lie,dirty secrects,rape,sexual abuse, thats what the preach about but yet protect those who do these horable sins! Jehovah Witness need to be prtecting the Victums and the inusiant cjildren of the concragation!

    Michelle Englehart(Pagan)
    Of Lake Elsinore,Ca