The Texas law firm Baker Botts devoted more than $6 million in billable hours on the set of interconnected lawsuits based upon Paul Pressler’s alleged abuse of minor boys and young men, according to an article published by Law.com.
The Jan. 5 article also named the six defendants who settled out of court in the course of 2023: Pressler, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Houston attorney Jared Woodfill, First Baptist Church of Houston, the Southern Baptist Convention and the SBC Executive Committee.
According to the legal journal article, which mainly highlights the success of the Baker Botts team, Pressler was the last to agree to a settlement with Duane Rollins.
According to a legal brief in the case, Rollins claims after he enrolled in Pressler’s Bible study at First Baptist Church of Houston, Pressler lured the 14-year-old to Pressler’s home and a private club for fondling and anal sex. He convinced Rollins to keep “our secret,” the brief says, by telling the boy he was “special” and “no one but God would understand” their relationship.
Pressler has denied the allegations but Baker Botts says it had witnesses lined up to testify against the former appellate court judge who was co-architect of the SBC’s “conservative resurgence.”
The Law.com article also makes an explicit link between the Pressler allegations and the creation of the Houston Chronicle’s landmark “Abuse of Faith” series that led to a public conversation about sexual abuse in the SBC.
“Among the more incriminating documents were those of SBC lawyers stating that the defendants would not depose Baker Botts’ witnesses because they believed it would only prove up the plaintiff’s case. …”
Baker Botts identified three new witnesses who would have testified against Pressler, in addition to others who have come forward with their own stories of being abused by the judge, the article said.
One witness would have been an unnamed assistant to Pressler “who had had enough and told the Pressler family about the sexual abuse he witnessed,” Baker Botts reported. “He also advised the family to not allow Pressler to have any assistants who were young white males.”
Another would have been state prosecutor Brooks Schott, who is a former associate at the law firm where Pressler and Woodfill were partners, “after he was propositioned by Pressler to participate in ‘naked hot tubbing’ in a private ranch.”
A third witness who would have testified is District Judge Jaclanel McFarland, who currently presides in the court where Pressler once presided. Baker Botts said McFarland — also a Baptist — “was prepared to state it was common knowledge Pressler acted inappropriately with young men.”
McFarland had Pressler’s courtroom portrait taken down.
Pressler and McFarland years ago were on opposite sides of the SBC’s “Battle for the Bible,” with McFarland being a well-known opponent of Pressler’s effort to gain control of the SBC and all its institutions.
The Law.com article also details what Baker Botts attorneys say was stonewalling by SBC attorneys.
“During discovery, Baker Botts sent its requests for production but the Southern Baptist Convention produced zero documents. Baker Botts pushed on a motion to compel and SBC responded saying it was not producing documents because they were under the control of their Executive Committee.
“As a result, Baker Botts brought the Executive Committee into the lawsuit and one week before trial it produced about 1.5 million documents. Baker Botts moved for a continuance and put a whole team of associates on the document search.”
As a result, “some interesting smoking gun documents were found,” said Michael Goldberg, lead attorney on the case and senior counsel in the Houston office of Baker Botts.
The article explains: “Among the more incriminating documents were those of SBC lawyers stating that the defendants would not depose Baker Botts’ witnesses because they believed it would only prove up the plaintiff’s case. Other documents spelled out the SBC defense philosophy of delay, filing a multitude of motions and blaming the victim.”
Although the full case never made it to trial before settlement, it changed Texas law to allow an expanded time for abuse claims to be filed. “Rollins argued that his childhood trauma rendered him of an unsound mind and therefore prevented him from asserting his claims within the typical statute of limitations,” the article noted.
Goldberg told the journal: “This case was so important to me and the entire Baker Botts team because of the significance, not just to Duane but to all the others who faced sexual abuse by powerful men. There will always be evil in society, but evil can only flourish if otherwise good people stay silent.
“Hopefully, SBC and churches like First Baptist Church will have learned from this case and agree to never again stay quiet while others among them facilitate such terrible abuse.”