An attorney who briefly worked for the Woodfill Law Firm says Paul Pressler invited him to join him naked in a hot tub, in an affidavit filed this week in federal court.
The affidavit was attached to a civil suit Gareld Duane Rollins has brought against the former judge and Texas state lawmaker, that accuses Pressler of raping and molesting him over 35 years. Pressler denies the claims.
There is a hearing on Monday that could move the case back to state court in Harris County.
In the affidavit, Brooks Schott, who now lives in Spokane, Washington, said he met Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner, while in his third year of law school at Willamette College of Law in Salem, Oregon. Schott said he visited Houston at the suggestion of his father, who had the occasion to preach at a church in The Woodlands, where Matt Woodfill, the brother of Jared Woodfill, served as pastor.
After a visit in March 2016, Jared Woodfill offered Schott a job after graduation. He took the Texas Bar Exam that July and began a clerkship at Woodfill Law Firm the next month. After receiving his passing score on the bar exam, Schott became a junior associate that November.
Schott said he was introduced to Pressler at a political event, and Pressler subsequently invited Schott to have lunch with him. Schott said he was wary of joining Pressler for lunch because he had previously been asked to make a copy of a settlement agreement between Pressler and Rollins.
Rollins and his mother, Margaret D. Duryea, sued Pressler over similar allegations in 2004 in Dallas County District Court, with Daniel Shea as their representative. That case was settled and the proceedings sealed. Shea is the plaintiff’s attorney in this case, as well.
Despite those reservations, Schott attended at the urging of Woodfill, the affidavit says. Schott said that Woodfill told him “Pressler was a ‘hero of the faith’ and a ‘great man.’”
Schott visited the then 85-year-old Pressler’s house to pick him up and says Pressler answered the door with no pants on, saying he was running late and had trouble dressing due to poor health. Schott says Pressler gave him a tour of his house, and after learning he had Danish ancestry, told a story about going swimming naked in Denmark with other young men in his younger days.
“At lunch, Pressler told me about his ranch and all of its amenities including a ten person hot tub,” Schott wrote. “Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked.’ He then invited me to go naked hot tubbing with him at the ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity with him on the pretext of a hot tub experience. It was clearly a solicitation.”
Schott said he told Pressler he wasn’t interested, and that he informed Woodfill Law Firm office manager Ken Kennedy of the encounter. Schott said in the affidavit that Kennedy told him that Pressler had acted inappropriately toward other young men.
Schott resigned from the Woodfill Law Firm in May 2017. In the resignation letter included with the affidavit, Schott writes that his reputation in the legal community was damaged by the incident with Pressler and he scolds Woodfill for making him encounter Pressler at a subsequent political luncheon.
In an email chain between Schott and Woodfill following the alleged solicitation, Woodfill wrote that Pressler “has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of” and “I am shocked you would even allude to the fact that I somehow deceived you with respect to someone I have known since 1995 and has always been appropriate with me.”
Schott argues in the affidavit that the case should be remanded back to state court. It was removed from that jurisdiction on March 12 at the urging of defendants Southern Baptist Convention and First Baptist Church of Houston. They argued the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, established by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1871, required that the case be sent to federal court.
“I believe that what happened to me involves attorney misconduct and further, reveals that there is widespread knowledge about Woodfill and Pressler in the Harris County judicial community,” Schott writes in the affidavit. “Consequently, it is my opinion that what happened to me is pre-eminently a state judicial responsibility such that retention of federal jurisdiction would arguably disturb the balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.”
Shea filed on April 3 another affidavit that identifies an unnamed married man in his 50s from New York who says Pressler groped him as a teenager. The man said that during a retreat in Houston in the 1970s, Pressler asked to share a bunk with the then 17-year-old and rubbed his feet against his. The man also claims that Pressler groped him in a sauna at Houston Oaks Country Club.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].