The attorney for a Houston man accusing former Texas state judge and lawmaker Paul Pressler of sexual molestation tells The Texas Monitor he’s received calls from other people with similar allegations.
“I’m getting a lot of responses from a lot of people,” Daniel Shea told The Texas Monitor in an exclusive interview.
Shea said he plans to include those who agree to be named in a disclosure document listing people with knowledge of facts relevant to the case.
The suit from Gareld Duane Rollins filed in Harris County on Oct. 18 alleges that Pressler molested him repeatedly over the course of 35 years. He said he met Rollins as a teenager when he began attending First Baptist Church, where Pressler held volunteer leadership roles. The suit alleges that Pressler enrolled Rollins in Bible study and began molesting and raping him in his master bedroom study.
The suit also names Pressler’s wife, Nancy, his law partner Jared Woodfill, the First Baptist Church of Houston, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and its president, the Rev. Paige Patterson, claiming the others helped cover up the alleged molestations. Rollins seeks $1 million in damages.
A psychiatrist’s report included in the case file says Rollins suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from childhood sexual trauma.
Mark Lanier, an attorney representing Patterson and the seminary, filed a motion on Nov. 17 asking a judge to move the case to Tarrant County, the location of the seminary. That motion will be heard on Jan. 16.
“If any victims decide they want to be added to the suit that can be done,” Shea said.
Shea had strong words for the 87-year-old Pressler, calling his alleged molestations the “worst kept secret in Houston.”
“He’s been very blatant and very careless over the years running after young boys and picking them up from these various church youth Bible study groups,” Shea said.
Pressler filed a formal response to the lawsuit with the court on Nov. 17 in which he “generally and categorically” denied “each and every allegation” contained in it, Baptist Press reported.
Pressler’s attorney, Edward Tredennick, did not return The Texas Monitor’s emailed request for comment.
He previously told Texas Tribune that Rollins’ long arrest record for charges that include driving under the influence, forgery, and possession of a controlled substance show that the complainant’s story should be questioned.
“Mr. Rollins is clearly a deeply troubled man, with a track record of multiple felonies and incarceration, and it is the height of irresponsibility that anyone would present such a bizarre and frivolous case — much less report on it,” Tredennick told the outlet.
The Tribune said Tredennick wouldn’t provide further comment or respond to specific questions.
Pressler repeatedly vouched for Rollins when he was being considered for parole on his various crimes. Pressler noted in a 2000 letter to the Texas Board of Pardons and Parole that he was offering to be actively involved in helping someone’s rehabilitation for the first time “because I really believe in Duane.”
Two years later, Pressler successfully helped Rollins gain parole after pledging to “be personally involved in every bit of Duane’s life with supervision and control,” including employing him at the law firm he shares with Woodfill.
Woodfill initially represented Pressler in the case, telling Quorum Report, which first reported on the lawsuit, that “it’s simply Mr. Rollins making up things to extort money from the Southern Baptist Convention. There’s no credibility…he’s taking a shotgun approach. We’re not paying a dime. We’ll fight it tooth and nail.”
Shea sent The Texas Monitor an amended complaint in which he added a defamation claim against Woodfill, and said the statement of the lawyer is also imputed to his client, Pressler.
Shea said the Southern Baptist Convention isn’t named in the lawsuit, therefore Rollins couldn’t be trying to extort money from it.
“This is what happens when you decide you’re going to fight a lawsuit tooth and nail. You end up with your teeth and nails digging a hole for yourself,” Shea said. “Let them squiggle and wiggle and raise all the hell they want to, but the point is that this is a legitimate lawsuit and it’s going to go forward.”
Woodfill did not return a call from The Texas Monitor seeking comment placed to his law office. His attorney, Albertus Wiesedeppe III, did not return an email requesting comment.
Woodfill also told the Texas Tribune the lawsuit was “an attempt to extort money” and said he planned to file a counterclaim against Rollins and Shea for their “frivolous and harassing lawsuit.”
Pressler is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and its recent “conservative resurgence,” an effort to remove liberal influence within the church for fear it was eroding core values. He served in the Texas House from 1957 to 1959 and as a justice on the 14th Court of Appeals.
Shea famously sued the Catholic Church last decade, arguing a letter that then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who would soon become Pope Benedict XVI, sent to all Catholic bishops in 2001 constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice. Shea and his co-counsel Khan Merritt said the document for dealing with sex abuse cases ordered bishops to handle the matter internally rather than go to law enforcement with the claims.