Appellate court denies request to intervene in molestation case
An appellate court today denied a request to intervene in the case of a Jehovah's Witness facing child molestation charges.
The Fourth Appellate District Division Two declined a defense petition requesting they stop Gilbert Simental's trial to address a superior court judge's ruling that orders elders from a Jehovah's Witness congregation to testify.
The Murrieta man's lawyers Thursday asked the court to overturn Riverside County Superior Court Judge F. Paul Dickerson's decision ordering the congregation leaders to testify about admissions Simental reportedly made during an inquiry into reports of child molestation.
"We are disappointed that they did not grant the stay and decide the issue," defense attorney Miles Clark said this morning.
Prosecutor Burke Strunsky declined comment.
Clark said he will ask another court to hear the defense petition and hopes to file paperwork with the appropriate court later this week.
Simental, 49, is charged with molesting two of his daughter's friends during sleepovers at his home from July 2005 to July 2006, court records indicate. The girls were ages 9 and 10 at the time and are sisters, court records show.
As a practice, The Press-Enterprise does not publish the names of those who are believed to have been victims of sexual abuse.
Simental's lawyers contend the state is depriving elders and its members of the right to keep these statements confidential while giving it to others who engage in one-on-one confessions or counseling with clergy, according to court papers filed with the appellate court.
In the Simental case, three elders formed a judicial committee to look into a report that two girls were molested.
Simental and Elders Andrew Sinay and John Vaughn all believed their conversations were confidential. They were made during judicial committee formed in response to allegations of child sex abuse, Clark has said.
In his ruling, Judge Dickerson said having three elders involved made this judicial committee a fact-finding body not concerned with maintaining confidentiality.
When someone is removed from the Jehovah's Witnesses, notes from a judicial committee meeting including admissions are passed on to another committee tasked with handling the appeal. The elders must send paperwork explaining evidence presented to the Jehovah's Witnesses headquarters in New York after the person is dismissed.
Opening statements are expected later today in Simental's trial at the Southwest Justice Center in French Valley.