Two-and-a-half years after Jane Roe filed suit in federal court against Paige Patterson and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, the trial date has been delayed yet again.
On Sept. 2, Sean Jordan, U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of Texas, issued an order to scuttle the trial planned for this month and delay it indefinitely due to what appears to be uncooperative witnesses and failure to complete the “discovery” part of trial preparation.
Discovery includes taking depositions from key figures with knowledge of the case. And in this case, some of those figures may have to be compelled by the court to talk, according to the judge’s three-page summary. Roe has filed two motions to compel witnesses to testify, and Patterson has filed one such request.
“Here, Roe has identified numerous material discovery disputes that remain outstanding. Moreover, Roe has attested that certain key witnesses with potentially essential information have yet to be deposed, including SWBTS Board of Trustee Chairman Kevin Ueckert,” the judge explained. “Roe further provides that, given defendants’ broad assertions of privilege and work-product doctrine during depositions, she has delayed deposing further witnesses pending the court’s ruling on her motion to compel.”
Jane Roe is a pseudonym for an anonymous woman who has alleged that while a student at Southwestern she was stalked, raped and repeatedly abused by a male student who also was a seminary employee with access to her campus living space. The suit contends that the seminary and then-President Patterson are liable for not protecting her, although she did not report the abusive behavior to seminary officials until several months after it allegedly happened.
Patterson’s mishandling of this case — he reportedly told other seminary officials he needed to “break her down” to silence her — led to Patterson’s dismissal by seminary trustees in 2018. Patterson also had been accused of mishandling sexual abuse claims at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, where he previously served as president.
This case — which places Southwestern Seminary in the odd position of defending itself alongside the president seminary trustees fired — was filed in federal court on March 12, 2019, which was 30 months ago. The case has taken all manner of twists and turns, with 203 entries listed on the court’s online history of the case.
One court document indicates that on Aug. 16, all parties to the case engaged in a meditation effort that failed.
In addition to the problems with getting the case prepared for trial, both Patterson and Southwestern have filed motions asking that the charges against them be dropped in a procedure known as summary judgment. The judge has not yet ruled on those requests — in part because of awaiting a response from Roe, who apparently believes she has not been given access to the information she needs to file her response.
In granting the delay in scheduling the trial, Judge Jordan explained: “Roe has sufficiently shown that … the outstanding discovery disputes justify a temporary stay of deadlines, pending the court’s adjudication of such disputes.”
“Roe has sufficiently shown that … the outstanding discovery disputes justify a temporary stay of deadlines, pending the court’s adjudication of such disputes.”
The Texas case is now playing out amid the larger backdrop of allegations of covering up or ignoring cases of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches and institutions. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting in June empowered the convention’s president to appoint a task force to investigate allegations against the SBC Executive Committee and its leadership.
Also, another woman, Hannah Kate Williams, recently filed a sweeping lawsuit against the Executive Committee, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Lifeway Christian Resources and eight SBC leaders accusing them of a conspiracy to cover up her own alleged sexual abuse at the hands of her father while he was a student at Southern Seminary.