The sexual molestation suit against former Texas judge and state lawmaker Paul Pressler is going back to state court.
U.S. District Judge Kenneth M. Hoyt recently ruled that while the suit is “admittedly saturated with theological dogma,” it “does not automatically raise a federal question.”
He remanded the case back to Texas district court in Harris County.
Duane Gareld Rollins, 53, claims that Pressler molested and raped him over most of his life, beginning when he was 14 years old. Rollins sued Pressler over the same claims in 2004 and the case settled. Rollins and his attorney, Daniel Shea, filed the new suit over concerns about what would happen if the 87-year-old Pressler dies before the $1,500-per-month payments are scheduled to end in 2029. Shea also recently filed affidavits in the case from two men who claim Pressler groped or solicited them.
Pressler has vigorously denied the claims.
Attorneys for the defendants argued that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine applies in this case, which led to the case being removed to federal court initially. That doctrine has often spurred courts to give deference to religious organizations over ecclesiastical matters.
Shea argued the church organizations that are defendants in the Rollins suit can’t hide behind First Amendment protections, and that Texas state law is adequate to address the claims brought forth, which include a breach of fiduciary duty, assault by offensive physical contact and conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy, and negligence.
Co-defendants in the suit include Pressler’s wife, Nancy; Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s former law partner; First Baptist Church of Houston; Second Baptist Church of Houston; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and its president, the Rev. Paige Patterson; and the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Rollins seeks $1 million in damages in the suit.
Pressler served in the Texas House from 1957 to 1959 and is a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].