A Texas judge erred by dismissing a sexual abuse lawsuit against former Southern Baptist Convention leader Paul Pressler due to statutes of limitation, the alleged victim’s lawyer says in a new brief filed with the First Texas Court of Appeals.
Houston attorney Michael S. Goldberg asked the appellate court in a brief Feb. 12 to reverse a 2018 decision by Houston Judge Ravi K. Sandill finding that 55-year-old Gareld Duane Rollins failed to meet standards in Texas law granting exceptions to a window of time allowed for bringing certain kinds of legal action.
In granting Pressler’s motion for summary judgment, the brief says, the lower court ignored unrebutted expert testimony that because of childhood sexual abuse Rollins was of “unsound mind” until he made an outcry statement to a prison psychologist in 2015.
It further alleges that Pressler used religious manipulation to stop the impressionable teenager from telling anyone about their relationship until long after the normal statute of limitations for filing civil lawsuits had expired.
Evidence gathered prior to the order halting the lawsuit filed in the 127th Judicial District Court in Harris County, Texas, included expert testimony by psychiatrist Harvey A. Rosenstock that abuse alleged to have begun when Rollins was 14 caused repressed memories that kept him from realizing he was a victim until sometime after 2015.
Rollins says the clock for various statutes of limitation ranging from two to five years should begin when he regained his capacity, rather than in 1980 when the alleged abuse started him on a downward spiral of substance abuse supported by petty crimes.
Pressler’s lawyer argued in an appellate brief filed Jan. 3 that the psychiatrist’s expert testimony was “deficient” and “speculative” and “has no probative value under Texas law.”
“Expert testimony is unreliable if it is not grounded in scientific method or procedure and is no more than subjective belief or speculation,” Houston lawyer Edward C. Tredennick argued in the brief. “Expert testimony is also unreliable if there is too great an analytical gap between the data and the opinion proffered.”
Goldberg said in Rollins’ brief that during the trial phase defendants never moved to exclude or limit Rosenstock’s affidavit in the trial court and now during the appeal are trying “to hide Pressler’s insidious acts behind a wall of legal technicalities.”
“The important takeaway is that defendants do not cite any original evidence dislodging Rollins’s fundamental theory of this case: that Pressler leveraged his religious authority to sexually abuse a vulnerable Duane Rollins and subsequently hide the abuse,” the brief argues in part. “That abuse resulted in Rollins’s undiagnosed PTSD and led him to abuse drugs and alcohol. At the same time, Pressler prevented Rollins from getting the help he needed – both legal and psychological – by convincing him that their relationship was sanctioned by God.”
Goldberg said the defendants – which in addition to Pressler include his wife, Nancy; former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Paige Patterson; former Pressler attorney Jared Woodfill, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and First Baptist Church of Houston – “should not be allowed to benefit from the chain of events that Pressler initiated and the delay that he was so effective in bringing about.”
“The legal framework for evaluating the statute of limitations is woefully inadequate to account for the unique considerations at play in childhood sexual-assault claims – especially assaults by religious leaders,” Goldberg said in the brief.
“It is clear that Pressler’s fraud (via religious manipulation) prevented Rollins from filing his lawsuit until after 2015,” Goldberg elaborated. “Labels aside, the effect of Pressler’s actions was the same: after repeatedly abusing a vulnerable and intensely religious child, Pressler lied to him by saying their relationship was sanctioned by God and thus tricked him into keeping the abuse a secret for years. Under any label, the law does not reward a tortfeasor for the success of his coverup.”
Pressler “consistently has vehemently denied” factual allegations made in the lawsuit, his lawyer said.