The attorney representing a man suing former Southern Baptist Convention leader Paul Pressler for alleged sexual abuse has filed the first of what he says will be a series of affidavits corroborating his client’s claims.
An attachment to a motion filed April 3 in the United States District Court for the Second District of Texas Houston Division identifies a married man in his 50s living in New York who says he believes Pressler “had designs” on him when he was a teenager.
The witness, a member of a youth group that Pressler led at a Presbyterian church in Houston in the 1970s, said during one weekend retreat at the Pressler Ranch, when he was 16 or 17, Pressler told him there was a shortage of beds and asked if he would mind if they shared a bunk.
He said he recalls “feeling a typical teenage aversion to sleeping beside him,” but did not at the time think the request was unreasonable. During the night, he said, Pressler told him he was cold and rubbed his feet against his under the covers without asking.
The affidavit also says Pressler used to take boys from the youth group to saunas and showers at the Houston Oaks Country Club, typically when no other club members were around. They usually would carpool after Bible study in groups of four to 12, but one night he rode with Pressler and noticed he was the only passenger. He asked who else was going, and Pressler said they were the only two.
He suspected nothing, the affidavit says, until Pressler groped him when they were alone in the steam bath.
“I was absolutely not aroused,” the statement says. “I froze. Shocked, stunned and utterly frightened, I had no idea what to expect next. I was naked and trapped — miles from home — and I needed to be beyond Pressler’s reach.”
“My instincts told me to carry on as though nothing had happened — to end the incident with no further incident. With great difficulty, I talked calmly, while staying alert. We returned to the locker room and dressed. Then Pressler drove me to my car without further incident. I went home and from that moment I have stayed away from him.”
Houston attorney Daniel Shea said in the April 3 motion the allegation is just one of “affidavits and material corroborating witnesses” in preparation and partially completed in the case. Shea said they span a period from as early as 1977-78 to as recently as unwanted sexual advances claimed by a man in 2016. Shea said “other affidavits will follow” and “new corroborators continue to come forward.”
Shea’s motion came in response to a motion for summary judgment filed March 30 by the Southern Baptist Convention, one of a number of organizations and individuals accused in the lawsuit of being co-conspirators. While denying any wrongdoing, the SBC argued that the lawsuit is barred by statute of limitations.
Allowing the case to proceed, the motion said, “would involve discovery regarding documents, events and people spanning 40 years.”
“The attendant costs to SBC, taxpayers and judicial resources constitute an abuse of the civil justice system,” the motion said.
Shea opposed the motion, saying he has not yet had a chance to depose Pressler.
According to legal websites, depositions — the taking of an oral statement of a witness before trial, under oath — are part of the right that all parties in a lawsuit have to “discovery,” a formal investigation to find out more about the case before going to trial.
Pre-trial discovery allows the parties to better define their strategies and avoid delays. A deposition can produce favorable testimony, or it can reveal a lawyer has a weak case and lead to settlement without going to trial.
Depositions for Pressler and his wife, Nancy, were initially set for Jan. 16 but were “quashed” — declared legally void — by the defendants. March 13 depositions ordered in state court were intercepted when defendant Second Baptist Church in Houston filed a motion March 12 moving the case to the federal bench.
“The depositions sought will be confrontational,” Shea said. “Either Paul Pressler will admit or deny the abuse, admit or deny the corroborators, or provide some unknown response.”
Shea said “even a complete denial” would establish dates and patterns relevant to his case.
Shea’s client, Gareld Duane Rollins Jr., claims that Pressler assaulted him over the course of 35 years, beginning when he was 14.
Pressler, a former justice on the Texas 14th Court of Appeals, has denied all allegations in the lawsuit. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.