A Texas judge has dismissed most of a sexual assault lawsuit against former Southern Baptist leader Paul Pressler due to statutes of limitation.
Houston Judge Ravi K. Sandill signed an order Oct. 15 granting summary judgment in favor of Pressler and other defendants on five of eight causes of actions in a lawsuit originally filed in October 2017.
Sandill, judge of the 127th Civil District Court in Harris County, Texas, said during a hearing in August that Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. does not qualify for an exception to statutes of limitations of five years and less for acts he alleges to have occurred prior to 2004.
Judge Sandill dismissed allegations including assault, conspiracy, fraud and negligence against Pressler and other parties — including the Southern Baptist Convention and Pressler’s “conservative resurgence” co-founder Paige Patterson — “specifically on statute of limitations,” according to a transcript of a hearing Aug. 17.
Rollins, 54, claims that Pressler began sexually abusing him when he was 14, turning him toward lifelong addiction to alcohol and drugs that led to 11 arrests and “repressed and disassociated” memories undiscoverable before he made an outcry statement to a prison psychologist in 2015.
Sandill, who is currently running for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, determined Rollins’ unsound mind defense to be “an issue of convenience and not an issue of fact.” His decision is subject to appeal.
Three remaining claims – breach of contract by both Pressler and Rollins and slander and libel stemming from a lawyer’s comments accusing Rollins of trying to extort money from individuals and organizations named in the lawsuit – can move forward.
Pressler, 88, who denies all allegations, settled a previous lawsuit with Rollins in 2004, paying him $234,000 over 13 years.
Statutes of limitations are laws that specify how much time a person has to file a lawsuit in a particular state. They are intended to prevent plaintiffs from gaining an unfair advantage over defendants by purposely delaying commencement of court proceedings.
Some, however, say such laws are inappropriate in sex abuse cases, where victims are often shamed or bullied into silence until after the window of opportunity to file a lawsuit has closed.
Michigan recently extended its statute of limitation on sexual assault in response to the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar to 40-175 years in prison for sexually abusing women and girls over the past two decades.
Rachael Denhollander, a Baptist and the first of more than 150 women claiming that Nassar abused them, lobbied Michigan lawmakers to change the old statute, which barred her from seeking legal action when she turned 25.
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their supporters are pushing for similar change in Pennsylvania, after a 900-page state grand jury report released in August detailed sexual abuse of about 1,000 children by 301 Catholic priests.
Maryland lengthened its statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse in 2017, after a class-action lawsuit alleging the largest abuse and coverup scandal on record in evangelical churches was thrown out of court because the plaintiffs waited too long to file.