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WV Supreme Court Reverses Exclusion of Evidence in Case Alleging Mormon Church Cover-up of Child Sexual Abuse

June 20, 2017

The West Virginia Supreme Court has reversed the exclusion of evidence in a case alleging the systematic cover-up of child sexual abuse by the Mormon Church. The decision is a complete reversal of a lower court decision and puts the case back on track for a trial in which a jury will review the full scope of evidence against the Church.

The plaintiffs, represented by Zuckerman Spaeder attorneys Carl Kravitz, Caroline Mehta and William Meyer, are nine minor children and their parents. They allege years of sexual abuse by Michael Jensen, the son and grandson of prominent Church leaders, and the Church’s cover-up of that abuse.

Plaintiffs further allege that Church leaders knew of Jensen’s past sexual abuse of children and yet sought to place him in homes with children and babysitting jobs where he committed further sexual abuse of children as young as four years old.

“We are extremely pleased that the Supreme Court vindicated the rights of the sexually abused children,” said Carl Kravitz. “The Court has made it clear that the children can present their claims to a West Virginia jury with all of their evidence and all of their legal theories.”

In 2015, the Church obtained partial summary judgment eliminating a large portion of the plaintiffs’ evidence. The West Virginia Supreme Court reverses that earlier ruling. In the opinion, West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Loughry wrote, “Skirting its duty to allow a jury to address the multitude of disputed factual issues present in this case, the circuit court wrongly invaded the jury’s province by resolving these factual disputes and making credibility determinations.”

In particular, the Supreme Court held that evidence of Jensen’s 2005 conviction in Utah juvenile court for sexual offenses—where Jensen’s Church bishop was in the courtroom and aware of the charges—was relevant to the Church’s knowledge of Jensen’s proclivity to abuse again.

“These children have endured sexual abuse by someone the Church knew to be an abuser. Then they and their parents persevered against the Church’s attempts to silence them,” said Zuckerman Spaeder partner Caroline Mehta. “Now they will finally have a chance to tell their full story to a jury.”

The full opinion can be read here: http://www.courtswv.gov/supreme-court/docs/spring2017/16-0008.pdf.

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