24 Jan 2011

Victim of sex abuse by convicted youth leader sues church, church replies by suing missionary parents for negligence

The Kansas City Star - December 1, 2010

Church sued in sex-abuse case sues victim’s parents

By JUDY L. THOMAS | Kansas City Star

First, a youth leader in a western Missouri church pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor.

Then the victim sued the church, New Life Bible Church of Easton, and its former youth leader, Michael J. Landy.

And now the church is suing the victim’s parents, saying they were negligent for placing her in Landy’s care. The action contends the parents — who are missionaries for the church — “breached their duty to provide for the proper care, custody and control of their daughter.”

Rebecca Randles, the Kansas City attorney representing the victim, called the church’s strategy bizarre.

“The parents traveled a great deal as missionaries for the church,” Randles said. “They would leave their son and daughter with the youth leader for the church, and he molested their daughter. “And now the church is claiming that the parents were somehow responsible. They’re saying the parents should have known.”

Patrick McGrath, an Overland Park attorney representing New Life Bible Church, said the church denied any negligence or fault in the sexual abuse.

“No one at New Life Bible Church had any idea that Landy was engaged in these crimes,” McGrath said in an e-mail. “None of Landy’s criminal conduct occurred during any church activities or on church property.”

He added that the victim’s “bravery in coming forward put Landy behind bars.”

Asked to explain the church’s action against the parents, McGrath responded: “I see no civil liability against New Life Bible Church” nor against the parents. “Under Missouri law, one has to be a named party before anyone’s fault can be compared.”

A trial has been scheduled for next year.

The church, which is in St. Joseph, also is suing the victim’s father-in-law, a former board member of the church. The suit says that as a board member he should have known that the victim was being molested and that he violated his fiduciary duties by failing to tell church officials.

Randles, who also represents the victim’s father-in-law, said the victim married the man’s son years after the abuse occurred and the father-in-law had no knowledge of the abuse. She said the reason the church is suing was “so they’ll end up paying less if there is a judgment.”

“They want the parents to pay part of it,” she said.

Timothy Mudd, a Kansas City attorney representing the victim’s parents, said he could not comment about the case because he didn’t believe he was permitted to discuss it.

While the lawsuits identify the victim and her parents, The Kansas City Star doesn’t typically name sex abuse victims.

The victim reported the abuse to St. Joseph police last year, saying it began in 1995 when she was 13 and lasted four years. Often she and her younger brother were left with Landy.

“My parents were on short overnight mission trips and they trusted him because he was the youth pastor so they left us there,” she said in her statement to police. “Sometimes we were there overnight and sometimes for a couple of nights or so.”

She said the sexual abuse occurred at Landy’s house, her house and at Landy’s office at OATS Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Columbia, Mo., that provides transportation for the elderly and people with disabilities. Landy was a regional director for the agency.

The victim told police that she remained silent about the abuse for years “because I was scared and I thought that everyone would think something bad about me because he was the youth pastor and everyone loved him.”

When confronted by police, Landy said he knew his actions were wrong. He told police that when the victim turned 17, the church’s pastor paid him a visit.

“My pastor had come to my office and told me that it was not good for me to have (her) at my house anymore,” he said in his statement to police.

Landy, now 58, was charged with second-degree statutory sodomy of a child under age 17, a felony. He pleaded guilty in Buchanan County Circuit Court last fall and was sentenced to seven years in prison, but that was reduced to 120 days of shock detention followed by five years’ probation.

In February, the victim and her husband filed a civil suit against Landy, the church and OATS Inc. The suit alleges that Landy wasn’t adequately supervised and asks for damages. The church responded by asking the judge to add the victim’s parents and father-in-law as third-party defendants, and the judge let them do so.

Both Landy and OATS have settled with the victim. Landy, who had worked at OATS since 1975, is no longer an employee, the agency’s attorney said.

Legal scholar Jonathan Turley, a law professor at Georgetown University, called the case “curious.”

“What it suggests is a scorched earth policy, to aggressively pursue these parents,” Turley said. “This sort of falls into the strategy of ‘sue them all, let God sort them out.’ ”

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