The Watchtower’s proposed use of Patterson to provide security for the damages award in the Conti case has been thrown out by Judge Robert McGuinness in a stunning setback for the Society, who were hoping to get out of paying a costly annual premium on their $17 million bond – or get the bond reduced altogether. Their failure to get the motion passed increases the financial strain on the Society, making it difficult for them to try to prolong the appeals process.
In presenting their motion, the Society argued that it was in Candace Conti’s interests to accept Patterson as security rather than force them to pay the court-imposed bond using a Travelers surety bond. Travelers is an insurance company that allows defendants to effectively pay large bonds without paying all the cash out at once. Rather, the defendant (in this case, the Watch Tower Society) must pay large annual premiums to Travelers, creating a considerable financial burden. Obviously, the Watch Tower Society only has funds donated for the Worldwide Work with which to make these payments.
To illustrate, think of insuring a car. You must pay an insurance company a fixed sum of money annually (or in monthly installments) so that, if you have an accident, your insurance company will be able pay a much larger sum of money on your behalf to cover any damages. It works similarly with a Travelers surety bond. The Watch Tower Society pays Travelers an annual premium, and in return, Travelers guarantees that the bond is effectively paid as far as the court is concerned without any actual cash changing hands (similar to an “IOU”). The only difference is that, if Watchtower loses their appeal, Travelers will have to make the payment of damages on their behalf – but Watchtower will still be liable for settling this amount with their insurer. The surety bond with Travelers is really just a means for Watchtower to keep hold of the money until it becomes absolutely necessary to pay it if the appeal is lost.
Watchtower’s lawyers tried arguing that, if Candace lost the appeal, she would have to repay the annual bond premium payments to the Society in excess of $80,000 per year for however many years the case dragged on.
Though feigning interest in Candace’s future well-being, it seems this motion was really just a clever ploy to try and drag out the appeals process by reducing the financial drain on the Society’s resources during the lawsuit. By offering Patterson as security rather than setting up an expensive surety bond through Travelers, the Society could have bypassed the need to pay a bond premium – effectively “buying some time”, knowing that however long the case dragged on they wouldn’t have to pay anything apart from their own legal costs.
In the worst case scenario, if the Watchtower lost they could have simply paid the final damages award instead of handing over Patterson, but without the expense of year after year of costly bond premium payments during the course of the appeal. This plan has fallen flat on its face, thanks largely to the fact that the motion was inherently flawed and couldn’t have been accepted by the Judge even if he felt so inclined.
A flawed motion
In trying to get their motion passed, the Society tried arguing that there is no legal reason why property cannot be offered instead of paying the full bond through a Travelers surety bond. Watchtower admitted that nowhere in Californian Law does it specify that property can be used in this way, but they argued that the Law doesn’t expressly forbid the use of property as surety for judgments either.
Rick Simons pulled apart this reasoning ruthlessly in his opposition to the motion, saying:
“The Church Defendants recognize that the controlling statutes ‘do not specifically mention the use of real property as collateral for a deposit in lieu of a bond…’ (Church MPA 5:5-6.) However, the argument continues, the statutes ‘do not expressly forbid its use, either” (lbid.) The Church Defendants’ argument ignores the well-established principle of statutory construction, fondly known as ‘expressio unius est exclusio alterius.’ Simply put, where exceptions to a general rule are specified by a statute, other exceptions are not to be implied or presumed.” (page 2, Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Motion to Substitute or Reduce Bond on Appeal)
(To download the full document opposing the Watchtower motion, click here.)
It seems that, when filing their motion, Watchtower’s legal team over-looked (or were unaware of) basic legal principles that rendered their arguments meaningless. It seems fairly obvious that if a list of acceptable ways of paying something is presented, you shouldn’t try adding to that list merely because your preferred way of paying isn’t clearly forbidden. Imagine getting your electricity bill through the post, and calling your supplier to offer to pay it in jewelry! The very idea seems ludicrous, but this is similar to what Watchtower has tried to do with their motion – and the attempt has failed abysmally.
Watchtower also requested that if they couldn’t be allowed to use property as surety they should at least have the bond amount reduced. This part of the motion also failed, because the court doesn’t have the power to reduce the bond amount below the amount that is required by the relevant statute. It seems that in both instances, Watchtower’s legal team has failed to research their ideas properly or ensure that the Judge could legally uphold their arguments. This will surely be music to the ears of Candace Conti and her legal team as they brace themselves for the appeals process to get underway. If the Watchtower can make such amateurish mistakes in filing this motion, what are their chances of successfully getting the verdict overturned on appeal?
One thing’s for sure – the Watchtower’s lawyers will have to raise their game and do much better if they can have any hope of overturning this verdict. Now that they have had this motion denied, the clock is ticking – and every day that the case drags on will cost the Society huge amounts of money in premium expenses. They have effectively had their “comfort zone” removed, and any incentive to try to drag this appeals process out has vanished. This case will need to be resolved quickly, one way or the other, because the costs will only accumulate the longer this continues.
How the Society must wish that they could settle with Candace! However, as she has stated clearly from the beginning, her aim seems to be to see this through to the bitter end and record a damning judgment against the Society rather than let this slip away quietly.
Some awkward questions
The Candace Conti case has thrown up so many uncomfortable questions that thinking Witnesses will need to ask themselves. Not only has the Society been found guilty in a court of law for its mishandling of child abuse – it has also failed to use the opportunity to implement urgently needed reforms that would serve to genuinely protect the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the future. (For more information, click here)
And by trying to offer Patterson as surety in a court case, the Society demonstrated a willingness to expose a dedicated and renowned Bethel facility of Jehovah’s Witnesses, built by volunteers and paid for with donated funds, to potential risk if the appeals process had been lost and the funds to pay the damages could not be found.
Finally, whether the appeals process is won or lost, money that has been donated by the brothers for the advancement of kingdom interests will be regularly leaving the bank account of the Watch Tower Society to pay for their legal obligations in a case involving the mishandling of child abuse. Even if the Society wins their appeal and the money is somehow repaid, thinking Witnesses all over the world will feel significant unease that they are giving money to the Society that is not being spent on the preaching work, but rather on bailing out an organization, supposedly directed by Christ, for its negligence over child abuse.
To download the official court document rejecting the motion, please click here.
If you’re interested in seeing some recent video footage of Patterson, please click on this link.