A prominent Southern Baptist layman is seeking a gag order in a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse, saying pretrial publicity jeopardizes his ability to receive a fair trial.
Paul Pressler, architect of a strategy credited with a rightward shift in leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and 1990s, asked the court to order a Texas man accusing him of sexual assault spanning decades and his lawyer not to discuss details of the lawsuit on social media, the Internet or with news media.
A motion filed Jan. 19 accuses Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. and Houston attorney Daniel Shea of “attempting to try this case in the media.” It cites a report published in the Houston Chronicle and elsewhere quoting from documents unavailable to the public.
Pressler’s attorney, Ted Tredennick, said “high media interest and the sensitive nature” of the case justify a gag order.
“Texas courts have addressed the issue of judicial openness and found that a judicial order prohibiting attorneys from communication with the media does not violate the First Amendment,” the court document says. “Confidentiality of any pretrial depositions and other discovery is imperative to maintaining Defendants’ right to a fair and impartial jury.”
Tredennick said confidentiality “is of the highest necessity” when dealing with accusations of sexual misconduct. “Comments or sensitive materials released to the public cannot be retracted,” he said, and a confidentiality demand “is the only means” to protect his clients’ rights.
Pressler’s attorney also asked Harris County Judge R.K. Sandhill to postpone deposing Pressler and his wife until after a Feb. 23 hearing on whether the case is barred by statute of limitations. The letter says Pressler, 87, is in “poor health” and “the stress a deposition will pose” for both Pressler and his 84-year-old wife, Nancy, jeopardize their well-being.
In another development, Rollins amended his original complaint Jan. 12 to add the Southern Baptist Convention to other parties accused of aiding and abetting his alleged abuse coinciding with the denomination’s “conservative resurgence.”
Citing an SBC resolution in 2003 reminding “all” Southern Baptists of their responsibility to report any accusation of child abuse to legal authorities, Shea argues the entire convention had a duty “to exercise reasonable” care to control actions of the resurgence leadership.
The revised complaint claims the various parties either knew or should have known that Pressler posed a danger to children but continued to hold him up as a model of moral virtue.
“Rather than reporting, they collectively concealed,” the document contends. “Rather than implementing discipline, they collectively encouraged self-adulation. Rather than cooperating in the workings of justice, they collectively obstructed it.”
Pressler has previously denied accusations in the lawsuit, and the other defendants say they are not liable for any alleged harm.