Regular readers of JW Survey may recall the 2014 landmark court case of Jose Lopez in the US.
The JW Survey coverage of the case can be found here, but to cut a long story short, Lopez had been repeatedly abused by Jehovah’s Witness Gonzalo Campos. Watchtower knew about it. Watchtower did nothing. Watchtower got sued.
Watchtower refused to produce key evidence during the trial, despite a court order demanding they do so, namely their internal records demonstrating that they’ve known about, and covered up, their sex abuse problem for decades. Furthermore, Watchtower’s oldest and longest serving member of the Governing Body, Gerrit Lösch, refused to comply with the court’s demand for his deposition. Lösch stated in court documents that “I do not answer to Watchtower,” and “Watchtower does not have, and never has had, any authority over me.” Details of this statement were covered in the November 8th 2014 news report from JW Survey.
For those who have been following this issue for some time, Watchtower’s reluctance to release this child abuse data should come as no surprise. When they were forced to release similar documents in Australia in 2015 (under the apparently more compelling threat of imprisonment rather than financial penalty,) these documents resulted in headlines around the world. The Religion had been covering up over 1000 alleged molesters in its ranks since 1950, many of whom went on to be repeat offenders.
So, Watchtower crossed its arms and point blank refused to comply with the US court order. As a result of this jaw dropping and blatant contempt of court, the judge threw out their entire defense, entered a default judgment for Lopez, and slapped Watchtower with punitive damages in excess of $13 million.
Incredibly, Watchtower then appealed this verdict, apparently believing that they should be able to flout the instructions of the US Legal system without penalty.
Appeal Court Rules: Watchtower must produce documents.
The San Diego Tribune has just reported on the outcome of this appeal, and the results are not great for either side.
Firstly, the appeal court removed the 13.5 million dollar judgement against Watchtower. But if you think that sounds like a victory for Watchtower, you need to keep reading the news report. The appeals court agreed with the original trial Judge that Watchtower absolutely has to produce this data. Their only point of contention is that, rather than simply terminate Watchtower’s defence and hit them with a $13.5 million judgement, the original trial judge should have tried a few less punitive measures first to try and get cooperation.
The other issue discussed was the hotly debated deposition of Governing Body member Gerrit Lösch, whose testimony was deemed relevant to the investigation. Court documents reveal that Watchtower attorneys went to great lengths to disconnect Gerrit Lösch from any responsibility for the actions of the Watchtower organization. In fact, Lösch was compared by Watchtower counsel to the Dalai Lama following a December 2013 hearing. The court stated:
“Watchtower requested permission to submit additional information regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organizational structure, and the role of the Governing Body within this structure, including that Lösch’s role is solely one of a spiritual leader (“akin to the Dalai Lama”) and not “a corporate managing agent.”
Watchtower fought so hard to insulate Gerrit Lösch, that the California Court of Appeals finally gave in and agreed that Lösch was not a “managing agent” for Watchtower and could not be compelled to testify in this case.
However, arriving at this decision was not an admission that Lösch does not manage Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Watchtower corporations. The appeals court declared:
“With these principles in mind, we turn to consider the three Waters factors: (1) does the person exercise judgment and discretion in dealing with the party’s matters; (2) can the person be expected to comply with the party’s directive to appear; and (3) can the person be anticipated to identify himself or herself with the party’s interests. (Waters, supra, 58 Cal.2d at p. 896.)
Lopez’s evidence satisfies the first and third factors.”
The court agreed that “Lösch is a long-standing member of the Governing Body, which approves operational guidelines for the United States Branch of the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization, including issuing directives for preventing and investigating child sexual abuse within the church.”
So why did the court dismiss the ruling to depose Lösch ? It all came down to the second “factor” – whether Lösch could be “expected to comply”. The documents state:
“However, Lopez failed to produce any evidence on the second Waters factor: whether the proposed deponent can be expected to comply with the party’s directive to appear. Although there was evidence indicating the Governing Body (and its members) asserted authority over Watchtower and could influence its conduct, there was no evidence showing the reverse was true. For example, Lopez proffered no facts to indicate that Lösch receives compensation or other tangible benefits from Watchtower or that Governing Body members had previously complied with such deposition directives”
In other words, the court agreed That Gerrit Lösch controls Watchtower, but the Watchtower does not control and compensate Gerrit Lösch, and insufficient evidence was presented demonstrating that Watchtower could and would compel Lösch to testify in this case, regardless of the fact that he is the senior Governing Body member of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (And that he receives lifetime accommodations, unlimited meals, spending money, travel around the world, and health care which would be the envy of the President of the United States).
You might say that Gerit Lösch is hiding in plain sight.
This stance by Watchtower legal counsel amounts to legalized perjury, if there were such a thing. Documents produced by the JW Organization place Lösch at the head of the “Personnel Committee” and second only to Samuel Herd on the “Service Committee” for Jehovah’s Witnesses as of September 2014. This same Service Committee includes subordinates such as Leon Weaver, Jr., a prominent member of the U.S. Branch Committee, whose name appears on multiple legal documents, tying Weaver and the Service Committee to the core administration for Jehovah’s Witnesses in the United States. In fact, Weaver is listed as the President of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. Whether the Court of Appeals was made aware of this connection is not clear. One thing that is clear however is the fact that Watchtower’s decision to remove all Governing Body members from their legal corporations in the year 2000 has served to insulate their leaders from the judicial process. This is Watchtower’s version of diplomatic immunity.
It may be of interest to JW Survey readers (and the Governing Body) that the document shown above, along with the leaked Branch Organization manual, were crucial to the 2015 subpoena of Geoffrey Jackson during the Australian Royal Commission on Child Abuse in Sydney. The Australian government was informed of Jackson’s key role in establishing and approving JW policies and was not tricked by the legal tactics used in an attempt to shield Jackson.
So, the case is now going back to the original trial judge, who will attempt to try and subpoena the child abuse case documents from Watchtower with a slightly smaller stick. However, the appeal acknowledges that should Watchtower refuse to comply when the lesser sanctions are imposed, then deploying the huge financial penalty is legitimately right back on the cards.
In other words, Watchtower is faced with the same choice as before: Reveal documents that are assuredly damning to them, or pay out huge sums of money.
The paper quotes Jose Lopez’ lawyer, Irwin Zalkin, as saying:
Additionally, the extra publicity and internet traffic that will now be generated by the ongoing case will only serve to draw more attention to the issue, especially among the ranks of Jehovah’s Witnesses, whom it’s clear that Watchtower’s leaders are trying to keep in the dark as relates to this.
However, whilst this judgement essentially only serves to prolong and draw attention to Watchtower’s agony, it also serves to delay justice for Jose Lopez, who will need to endure yet more of the trial process before receiving recompense for the damage that the horrendously flawed policies of Watchtower have inflicted upon him.
For those who wish to read the detailed 55 page court ruling, click here.