Attorneys for the Jehovah's Witness church appeared before a state appellate court yesterday (October 11) in hopes of overturning the $4000 daily sanctions that a trial court ordered them to pay for refusing to turn over documents in one of two sex-abuse cases.
Osbaldo Padron, a former parishioner of the Linda Vista Jehovah's Witness congregation, filed his lawsuit against the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, in 2013. Padron was one of seven people who sued the kingdom over sexual abuse they suffered by a former church elder, Gonzalo Campos.
As detailed in an August 30 Reader article, Campos admitted to molesting seven children from 1982 to 1999. Despite his admission, church elders agreed to let Campos rejoin the congregation after a four-year expulsion.
In a 1999 letter, Linda Vista church elder Eduardo Chavez argued for reinstating Campos. He wrote, “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."
In 2010, five victims sued the Watchtower for allowing Campos to serve as an elder despite having knowledge that he molested several children in the congregation. Watchtower settled that case in 2012. The terms of the settlement as well as the evidence against the Watchtower were sealed.
Two more victims, Padron and José Lopez, followed suit.
In 2013, San Diego Superior Court judge Joan Lewis ordered Watchtower to pay $13.5 million for repeatedly refusing to turn over documents that showed the church was aware of sexual abuse and did nothing to stop it.
Attorneys for the Watchtower filed an appeal. They argued that Judge Lewis had acted too soon in issuing the $13.5 million in sanctions and instead the trial court should have imposed less severe sanctions. The appellate court agreed. In their ruling, the justices wrote, "We conclude the court erred in ordering terminating sanctions because there was no evidence that lesser sanctions would have failed to obtain Watchtower's compliance with the document production order and because there were other possible sanctions that could have effectively remedied the discovery violation. On remand, the court has broad discretion to start with a different sanction that does not wholly eliminate Watchtower's right to a trial."
Then, last year in the Padron case, a different superior court judge, Richard Strauss, followed the appellate court's advice and instead of issuing terminating sanctions imposed $4000 daily sanctions on the Watchtower for refusing to turn over the documents that Padron's attorneys had requested.
Again, Watchtower's attorneys filed an appeal.
On October 11, those attorneys appeared before the Fourth District Appellate Court to argue that the trial court was wrong to issue daily sanctions — exactly what they had argued for in the appellate court Lopez case just months prior.
Justice Richard Huffman did not hide his displeasure that Watchtower's attorneys were arguing against what they had previously supported to the same court.
"You can't have it both ways," Huffman said during argument. "[The Lopez] ruling has come around to bite you and now you're saying, 'not fair, not fair.' You were headed in one direction before and now you’re headed another way. It's a breathtaking position to listen to."
The appellate court has 90 days to issue its formal ruling.