Conti appeal: Watchtower’s punitive damages reversed but negligence for lack of field service supervision is affirmed

The appeal court in the Conti case has overturned Watchtower's punitive damages, but upheld the judgment of negligence

The appeal court in the Conti case has overturned Watchtower’s punitive damages, but upheld the judgment of negligence

It’s a bittersweet day for Candace Conti, her family and supporters, as they digest the appeal court’s reversal of the “cause of action” for Watchtower’s punitive damages in her sex abuse case.

Though the amended verdict remains a victory in the battle to highlight Watchtower’s mishandling of child abuse, it is not the crushing financial punishment that many would have hoped for.

In a court opinion released in the last few hours, it has been explained that Watchtower and the Fremont Congregation WERE negligent regarding Candace’s abuse, but only insofar as they allowed Candace and her abuser, Jonathan Kendrick, to be alone together in the preaching work unsupervised.

To that end, judgment is to be re-entered solely on the grounds that Watchtower SHOULD have supervised Kendrick, a known child molester, in the preaching work, which has been determined as a “church-sponsored activity” by the appeal court.

What the revised punitive damages will be remains to be seen, but for now the $15.6 million judgment has been effectively stripped down to just $2.8 million in compensatory damages, with the $8.6 million in punitive damages against Watchtower overturned, and Kendrick unable to pay his $4.2 million in damages.

I have reached out to both Candace, Kathleen and Rick Simons, but none are available at the moment for comment, although Simons has kindly provided me with the appeal court opinion document, which is available for download here.

As disappointing as it is that the legal system has overlooked Watchtower’s basic moral duty to warn parents of a known child molester in this particular case, irrespective of the local reporting laws, it is nonetheless a cause for celebration that Watchtower’s negligence in this case has been affirmed despite the organization’s prolonged protests.

JWsurvey.org salutes Candace Conti for her bravery in pursuing this case without thought of financial gain but purely to see justice served.

Justice HAS been served, even if the punishment is not as severe as it ought to be. Thanks to this hard-fought case, Candace Conti will go down in history as the first person to ever successfully bring legal action against Watchtower for its mishandling of child abuse.

 

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44 Responses to Conti appeal: Watchtower’s punitive damages reversed but negligence for lack of field service supervision is affirmed

  1. Gareth says:

    Sad to see the elders successfully hiding behind having no legal obligations to protect the congregation. During my JC they told me quite something different: “we have the obligation to keep the congregation clean”!

    Hmm, Watchtower is getting the benefit of the doubt it seems in the confidentiality issue. Government leaves it to religious leaders to determine what (confessions) should be disclosed or not.

    I think the following in the opinion is very questionable (page 19):
    “Nine year old Conti was not relying on a church undertaking, and any lack of due care by the elders in monitoring Kendrick’s interactions with children did not increase the risk of harm to her, it only failed to reduce that risk.”

    Those judges seriously underestimate the power of authority elders have over (people in) the congregation; and the trust that members place in “God’s organization” and “their spirit appointed leaders”.

    In the summary, quite a big blow to the Watchtower attorneys (page 26): “Defendants [Watchtower] contend that Conti’s parents could be found at least partially responsible for the harm she suffered because they were negligent in supervising her and entrusting her to Kendrick’s care. However, the court properly refused to allow attribution of fault to Conti’s parents given the
    absence of any evidence they had reason to know Kendrick was a threat to her.” Trying to shift the blame everywhere!

  2. Rowland Nelken says:

    I noted the remarks about confidentiality regarding ‘penitential confessions’.

    This seems to be yet another area of life where the mere label ‘religious’ gives gratuitous privileges. In the eyes of some (like the Pope) it puts daft notions beyond mockery. It exempts very wealthy institutions from contributing to the taxes which fund the very services they enjoy, and, in this case, it absolves the JWs from any obligation to share information about potential criminals.

  3. Holy Connoli says:

    Typical WT lies.They Lawyer up to protect themselves. They do not care about the Victim only themselves. They even throw her parents under the bus trying to blame them and not be responsible themselves just like they blame the “publishers” for their falsely uttered prophecies in the past for being to “ANXIOUS”! WHere is the “LOVE” for the Brothers when they accuse the Victim and her parents! If the WT or Governing body was being judged by their own teachings they would all have to be Disfellowshipped for lying.

  4. Excelsior! says:

    Rowland,

    Excellent comment, sir! I wholeheartedly agree with you.

    Well done, Candace Conti. Your victory here will help so many other victims.

    This is a long road, and we need to keep on walking towards our goal of holding the WTBTS to account for its crimes.

    Peace be with you, Excelsior!

  5. M. Rhodes says:

    Each person who has been harmed by the Society’s shortsighted and unloving policies needs to do as Candace has done. To remain silent only paves the way for future abuses.

    The Society has acted to silence anyone who doesn’t share their views, but this is changing, as more and more victims are speaking out and holding them accountable. This is the only way to increase public perception of the abuses being perpetrated against members under the guise of religious freedom.

    The Society’s religious freedom should never be a platform to teach doctrines that destroy families, that endanger innocent children, that strip others of that same freedom. This is tyranny and abuse.

  6. Erik says:

    Thank you for looking back to help others Candace! I know you have a bright future to get back to. I am anxious to hear what lawyer Rick Simmons’ thoughts are, and whether he wants to reframe the punitive aspect someway, as I understand it looks as though that could be re-approached?

  7. Susan says:

    When you’re a Jehovah’s Witness you are constantly reminded how that members have “put on the new personality”, that the organization is better and cleaner than the world and so you let your guard down. You trust those within, and when the organization fails to warn their sheep of known predators within, it makes it a haven for such ones to attack which is what is happening. Let’s hope that this precedent setting case will open the floodgates for more lawsuits, forcing the organization to re-consider how they protect their flock.

    • Jill Hileman says:

      Susan, you said it better than I could have. When you are shamed and coerced into giving up your “worldly” connections, which include non-JW family members, and expected to make your congregation your new family, what options do young people have? It’s a toxic vacuum.

  8. JANUARY 2015 WT page 24.para.4 States : MANY CHRISTIANS (JW) have gone to MASSAGE PARLOURS,STRIP SHOWS ,NIGHTCLUBS,Watched SEXUALLY EXPLICIT MOVIES , Read EROTIC LITERATURE,Etc,Etc!!!
    This is an Admission in a Study Article !!
    HOW CAN the Governing Body CLAIM the JWs are the CLEANEST ORGANISATION on Earth??????
    It Must be EXTREMELY BAD & RAMPANT in the Congregations if the GB have to openly Admit it !!!
    SO WHAT is the DIFFERENCE between this Religious Orgsnisation & Others!’
    And AS IT IS SO BAD it’s not Surprising Paedophilia is happening in JW Land But what is wicked is how it’s Covered over until the POOR VICTIMS have to go to WORLDLY COURTS to GET JUSTICE!!

  9. Everyday Explorer says:

    This is very good news, the reversal of punitive damages notwithstanding. How I respect Candace Conti for having the integrity to pursue her case. I am absolutely certain this case will create a precedent, and the WT Soc will become inundated with similar cases — all now with reference to the long-fought Conti Case Judgement 2015. Let’s all take courage from this and keep on with our awareness-raising.

  10. anonymous says:

    Once again, the Watchtower gets away it. It makes me so angry. At least media attention has been drawn to it and that respect, Candice won. That is all she wanted and it was the jury that originally decided for such a huge amount of money for her. She won because the Watchtower was still found guilty of neglect. What the Watchtower can’t erase are those two shows on PBS and ABC where it directly shows one of Watchtower minions saying that that they (Watchtower) aren’t responsible to protect their kids in the congregations. Those shows will forever be on Youtube for all to see.

  11. jESSE says:

    I feel like this article is insightful into the moral balance of it all, coupled with the legal system. Cool.

  12. Ted says:

    The main argument submitted by WT, to avoid paying
    compensation to Candace was. “They were under No
    obligation to protect her from the sexual predator Kendrick.”

    This is unbelievable from people who miss no opportunity to
    proclaim they are “God’s exclusive flock on Earth”.
    “The Little Flock” + “The Other Sheep.

    Their instructions to Elders are in a book called “Shepherd the
    Flock”. The shepherd boy David protected his sheep from
    predatory Lions, with just a sling. Any farmer whose sheep
    were at risk from Wolves or Foxes would take extra precautions
    to protect them, and would alert his neighbours to the danger.

    The mighty GB though, “Would” not protect one little 9 year old
    sheep from a known predator.

  13. sue fointein says:

    I have the outmost respect for Ms Conti and the precedent her case has set. I, as others, would have liked to see punitive damages upheld and was saddened when I heard they were dismissed. But Ms Conti has won nonetheless.

  14. Charles Costante says:

    According to Wikipedia:
    “The Watchtower Society paid an undisclosed amount without admitting wrongdoing in an out-of-court settlement with 16 unnamed victims of alleged sexual abuse within the religion. According to court documents obtained by NBC News, one plaintiff was awarded over US$780,000” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehovah%27s_Witnesses%27_handling_of_child_sex_abuse)

    It looks like Candace will get a bit more than $780,000, so this is definitely a victory in more ways than one.

  15. Somebody Destroyed By Bethel says:

    It’s another case of the Watchtower winning court cases that expand our legal rights. Well, maybe not OUR rights, but those of pedophiles.

  16. J*L*C*R says:

    I wonder how many judges they had to bribe in order to have this judgement waved? It would be more cost effective to slip a few judges a brown paper bag filled with 100 dollar bills, than to pay over 15 Million in damages.

  17. Mama Joy says:

    Yeah! There should be a class action lawsuit over forced abandonment of family members.

  18. Mama Joy says:

    It makes you wonder how in the world they could in good conscious let a known child molester alone in a car with a little girl. You shouldn’t need a court to tell you that is wrong!

    They deserve every bit and more!

    Protect the little children!!!

  19. JJ says:

    The Watchtower lives to fight another day!
    We didn’t get to kill them with one, quick plunge of the sword to the heart, like we hoped. Instead it looks like they will die from a thousand different cuts, which will be much more satisfying in the end.
    Everytime they get dragged back to court, just imagine what is going through the minds of their lawyers. Think of all of the negative publicity they are getting, in every little town where they screwed up. Every person that leaves their organization can potentially take dozens with them. And they are no doubt loosing their best, brightest and most carasmatic individuals. These people can’t be replaced.
    The fools and oppresive ones will stay in the JW organization but they were never the people that brought new ‘sheep’ into the fold. So the GB will be ruling over a more and more twisted and nutty bunch of people that will cause them more and more problems with no benefits.
    Maybe that’s how it will all unravel???

    • ruth lee says:

      dear jj what an incite maybe you are onto s
      omething here i dont wish anyone ill but i do want truth and justice and slowly this will happen each little cut will kill a cult

  20. Diana says:

    Cool. It took a lot of courage to go up against them. I’m sorry the damages weren’t enough to really make a dent but a least it was something and hopefully more will follow.

  21. Tiger123 says:

    Unfortunately, I am not surprised at all by the outcome. Watchtower has lawyers on staff and have always been a legalistic group.

    Regardless of whether there are more child molesters among the JWs or the world, is not at issue. They do nothing to shed light on this subject and the danger presented when so much trust is demanded of those who are Elders. The appointment of the Elders in the past came from headquarters with a large amount of authority conferred upon them by Watchtower. Publishers are required to recognize and follow that authority as if being appointed by God. When an Elder in the past has been an abuser the WT is clearly an accomplice in the matter, for demanding congregation members to follow their authority.

    Only time will shed more light on their rules and how they have made things easy for molesters. As for awakening remaining WT followers, it does not seem likely to happen. They are part of a huge Ponzi scheme that they will never receive payment from, yet they will hold on, full of pride instead of admitting they have been duped.

    Candace did a great thing by coming forward and pursuing them. I hope more will come forward and get their just due from WT.

  22. Thinking of leaving says:

    It will be very interesting to see what they put up on jw.org.

  23. Fluffy says:

    (I commented this last night but I cannot see my post with all the others – appologies if this shows up twice, duplicate comment warning did just pop up but I’ll try again)
    “They were under no obligation to protect her from the sexual predator Kendrick”. Interesting point, as this flies in the face of what Steven Lett claims when he recently said;
    “Another way we can contribute to the oneness: rejecting false stories that are designed to separate us from Jehovah’s organization. As an example, think about the apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward pedophiles. I mean, that is ridiculous, isn’t it! If anybody TAKES ACTION against someone who would threaten our young ones, and TAKES ACTION to protect our young ones, it is Jehovah’s organization. We reject outright such lies.”
    No Steven Lett, we reject outright YOUR lies!

  24. Gareth says:

    The judges comment: “The prospect of children opening their doors to proselytizing child molesters is frightening.” And what about the children in the same congregation as a child molester?!? That isn’t frightening? Are they really reasoning that going door-to-door alone should be prevented, but also that it would be too burdensome for the elders to warn parents?? See page 15:

    “While it is readily foreseeable that someone who has molested a child may do so again, the burden the duty to warn would create and the adverse social consequences the duty would produce outweigh its imposition.”

    So the elders should be on guard to prevent an abuser to go door-to-door alone; but a duty to warn parents would be too big a burden?

    And don’t get me started on “adverse social consequences”! We’re talking here about the religion that has disfellowshipping as one of the ground rules!

    “The burden would be considerable because the precedent could require a church to intervene whenever it has reason to believe that a congregation member is capable of doing harm, and the scope of that duty could not be limited with any precision.”

    How about limiting it to child abuse, for a start?! Geez, be real!

    Sorry people, ranting here for a bit. Thanks for reading.

  25. anonymous says:

    Before this verdict no JW was supposed to talk about this incident or else they will be with the other rotten grapes. Nevertheless I think Candace was not interested in seeking money from this organization but the consideration and handling the two witness rule adequately as far as participation of Law Enforcement, Child Protective Services and other professionals concerning child abuse and seek responsible people and punishment. Hats off to this young and brave lady for facing courtrooms and being the first one in history to do this. Candace is a winner ladies and gentleman!!!!

  26. kat says:

    So now the WT can safely hide criminals, seems they have no interest in what should be a moral obligation, so much for saying they are a Christian org.

    Hats of to Candace for all she has done, those WT lawyers and the GB are a dirty bunch of cowards.

  27. msanjama says:

    i wonder time you are wasting on God’s organization

  28. Jack says:

    Hmmm, I thought about the “warning” issue, but consider this: if someone comes to a priest because he has an issue with porn (and Cedars can personally attest to this), it is expected to stay confidential, ok. Knowing that congregants will be “warned” because he can influence children to watch it, how can anyone else fell safe going to the priest if they know their business will be made public? That would create a hostile and untrustworthy environment, and people would not go to get help because everyone would know. Secondly, no one has mentioned Kendrick, or condemned him….after all, he’s the reason why conti was molested. He doesn’t touch her, we are not even talking about this. In fairness, if only seems too many of you are hoping and praying to see the WT fall, NOT for the actually perpetrator to be punished. I’ve yet to read an article where Kendrick is even being held responsible — it’s all about blaming the WT. Sure, they fumbled her protection to a degree, but let’s not forget why she needed “protection” to begin with.

    • Jack says:

      Hell, I forgot that Kendrick was even at play here, to be honest. One person claiming to have knowledge of the case didn’t know who Kendrick was…but he was familiar with the initial payout, and Conti. That is VERY telling. It seems as if people only want a big financial payout, or the case was “gutted”…as one site put it, inspite of the fact that the word is out.

      • anonymous says:

        Jack, Candace Conti only was asking for $1,444.00 ($1 for each of the 144,000) supposedly who will be going to heaven. That sure doesn’t seem like much to me, considering that she has had to spend an awful lot of money on therapy because of her abuse when she was a child. It was the jury who decided on the big “pay out” as you put it.

        You should watch some of the videos on Youtube of parts of the trial where the elders from her first congregation knew that Kendrick was an abuser and were told to keep him away from kids but they not only didn’t keep him away from kids, but when he moved to another congregation, actually sent a letter of recommendation to the 2nd congregation that he was good with kids.

        Ms. Conti and her lawyer didn’t even know what a can of worms they were opening up, until they started opening it up. That is when they decided that something has to be done about the veil of secrecy that the Society puts up around pedophilia in the organization.

        If you really care about kids being molested, that should be your first concern, not whether or not the jury wanted to award Ms. Conti a big “pay out” for all that she’s gone through.

        No amount of money that goes to a victim of child abuse, can buy back their lost and damaged childhood. What that money does, is to validate them.

        Everyone counts. Nobody should feel as if they aren’t just as important and valued as the next person. They have the right to stand up for themselves and tell the world what they went through and the person or persons and organization that made that abuse possible should be held responsible for ruining those lives and they should have to pay for it.

        Kendrick abused Candace but the Watchtower’s policy of confidentiality is what made her abuse possible.

        Comparing a person’s problem with porn is just a smoke screen. There is no comparison. Of course, if a person has a problem with porn and hasn’t hurt anybody else with that problem, should be confidential. That goes without saying.

        • Mama Joy says:

          The Catholic Church doesn’t usually put laypeople sex offenders in charge of children. (You have to take a background check to even get the job)

          Priests are different because there is so much invested in getting priests (Doctorate degrees, lack of people wanting to become a priest, etc) that they are hoping he learns his lesson. (Although, I personally think child molesters never change) They usually try and switch the priest to a congregation of all old people or a convent priest.

          Also, everyone harps on the priests because they are in the media. The truth is, statistically, protestant religions are twice as likely to abuse children. (Some people think because pastors/ministers are more involved with children than priests are)

          I would LOVE to see the statistics on Jehovah’s Witnesses and child sex abuse! Unfortunately, they don’t disclose like other religions do…..hmmm?

    • Erik says:

      Jack, child molesters are a huge problem and it is a well-known fact that they exist in every group containing vulnerable children. So for an organization to be considered to be acting responsibly they should have an effective policy in place to protect members and visitors from the child molesters within. In this larger context, the names of the molesters are irrelevant.

  29. good bye Lenin says:

    The Pope of the Catholic Church has called on the phone to some victims of abuse lamenting their sufferings. I wonder if the governing body of the JW call the heroic Candece to ask for forgiveness, are unpresentable.

    • Mama Joy says:

      Don’t count on it. They are never wrong, only the light get brighter.

      Bottom line:

      Parents….don’t leave your children alone with men. Ever.
      Elders…don’t allow children to be abused. Call the police, not bethel. Children don’t make this up. Always believe the children.

      • @Anonymous. Your last comment was Brilliant.Couldnt put it better myself.
        Amen to all you said!

        • @Mama Joy .Enjoyed your comments to.The GB need to be PRO ACTIVE I helping Children who are Victims not just paying off the ABUSED to keep it Quiet !! These PAYOUTS for Sex Abuse court cases are our FLIPPING Hard Earned Monetary ContributionS!!!

          • @good bye Lenin. Excellent Idea. I think a Personal Telephone Call from EVERY GB Member to Candace to SAY SORRY for the EMOTIONAL HELL they have put her through because of the inadequacy of their child protection policies & the STUPIDITY of a CHILD facing her accuser in front of 3 Elders !!

  30. Neal Krouni says:

    Glad Watchtower has to pay, but it’s not nearly enough!!!

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