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Jehovah's Witness Default in Child Molestation Case Affirmed

When a court says jump, lawyers generally ask how high, especially after exhausting all appeals and being threatened with terminating sanctions.

But, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, which is the governing organization for the Jehovah's Witness congregations nationwide, didn't jump when ordered to produce a set of documents. Instead it kept coming back to the merits of the case, insisting that the documents were irrelevant, even after being told to produce the documents multiple times and being threatened with severe terminating sanctions for failing to take the court's last chance offer.

Answer Stricken, Default Entered

The underlying case involved the alleged molestation of a minor who attended a slumber party at the home of an elder with the church. The elder did have a daughter about around the same age, and other girls were also invited. While swimming in the pool, it is alleged that the elder molested the plaintiff.

After being discouraged from taking legal action by the church, the girl's parents filed a lawsuit. During discovery, the plaintiff sought documents the church received in response to a 1997 letter the church sent out requesting information about child abuse and molestation within the church. The plaintiff insisted these documents would help to prove negligence as well as punitive damages. The church denied that any of the documents would be helpful and steadfastly refused to produce said documents (well, at least until they were ordered to do so, and did, in another case -- which happened to be months after the court's order of terminating sanctions).

Then, after protracted law and motion and appeals, with the church losing all the way, it failed to produce after the court explicitly explained that it would order terminating sanctions striking the church's answer and entering a default judgment against it. After the documents were not produced, the court did as promised, then held a prove up hearing, awarding $4 million to the plaintiff.

Naturally, given the propensity for appealing, the church appealed the judgment. But fortunately for the plaintiff, the church also seems to have a propensity for losing appeals too, as the judgment was affirmed in an opinion that doesn't hold back from explaining that the church's conduct warranted the severe sanction.

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