Day 1 - Fessler vs. Watchtower – Opening Statements and Motions in Jehovah’s Witness Child Abuse Trial
Yes, the definition I posted was from a simple Google search and you conveniently chose to quote only part of it and that part which does not apply.
Listener: Yes, the definition I posted was from a simple Google search and you conveniently chose to quote only part of it and that part which does not apply.Lol! Yeah...trying to converse with RO is like chasing a greased pig, isn't it?
He thinks he does a great service for the organisation but all he ends up doing is reminding me of the sneaky, dishonest methods employed by the organisation. Even better, he leaves this evidence on forums for all to see.
G 8/09 p 23
In order to adhere closely to the pattern set down in the Bible, Jehovah’s Witnesses have, not a clergy class, but unpaid spiritual shepherds and teachers who willingly minister to God’s flock.
Jehovah's Witnesses have unpaid spiritual shepherds rather than a clergy class? Watchtower is here dishonestly implying that all clergy are paid, and that since JW elders are not paid they are not clergy. This is very tricky and erroneous wording.
Not all churches have a paid clergy. I was raised in one that did not. Although some branches of the church used 'located ministers' that were paid, other branches used local men to take care of a normal ministers duties, much like JWs use elders.
Elders are clergy no matter how you slant it. Watchtower's constant denials of having a clergy class are only to try to make JWs look better, more Biblical, more holy, than other churches.
There are plenty of JWs that are paid too - missionaries, special pioneers, COs, DOs, and to a degree Bethel workers. I've often wondered how much GB members make. Not to mention that all their living expenses are paid, including business class travel. Then there are the 'green handshakes.' I tend to think they do very well.
Doesn't the Organization call these payments a 'stipend?' Using Richard Oliver's trick of only quoting the second definition, dictionary.com says...
Stipend: fixed or regular pay; salary.
DAY ONE UPDATE (Tuesday 7 February 2017)
From John Redwood:
Jehovah’s Witness leadership dismiss nearly every opportunity to report suspected abuse. Witness clergy mandate that when “wrongdoing” is discovered, they must immediately convene an internal tribunal of several elders, who are briefed on what happened. If the “sin” is serious, they form a Judicial Committee of three elders, then bring the victim before this committee to answer for her involvement. In this case, trial evidence showed that Jehovah’s Witness elders in the Spring Grove PA congregation were aware of a “consensual” relationship between 49-51 year old Terry Seipp, who attended the Freeland Maryland Congregation, and the victim, Stephanie Fessler. For 3 years Seipp played the role of surrogate mother to Fessler, all the while taking sexual advantage of Stephanie, a matter brazenly overlooked by both congregations.
Or did they overlook it? In 2004, elders were informed that there was inappropriate kissing and touching between Seipp and Fessler, yet they failed to report this under the Pennsylvania mandatory reporting laws which apply to all clergy, or elders who learn of suspected abuse. By 2005, elders had significant evidence of extensive sexual encounters between the victim and her abuser, yet continued to apply their own internal measures – a decision which forever damaged Stephanie Fessler, preventing her abuser from facing justice and ending the relationship.
Detective Lisa Layden of the Southwestern Regional Police department in York County PA testified that any physical contact which might rise to the level of sexual abuse must be reported to the authorities, including Pennsylvania’s Childline, a well-organized resource for victims and potential victims. But that is not how Jehovah’s Witnesses operate. All matters of “sin” are referred to the congregation elders, who then contact the legal department at Watchtower’s Patterson New York complex if a case of sexual abuse comes to light.
Watchtower claims to inform congregation elders of individual state child abuse reporting laws, but seldom if ever do elders contact the police and file a report. To say that elders rarely reports such matters is a significant understatement.
Thomas Jefferson Beffudles Jury
On the afternoon of February 7th, 2017, plaintiff co-counsel Gregg Zeff called the first witness, Mr. Thomas Jefferson Jr. This was a significant moment in the first day of trial, only the second time in Watchtower’s history that its organization has faced a jury in a child abuse trial.
And it did not go well.
From the moment Thomas Jefferson took the stand on behalf of Watchtower and the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (CCJW), there was an air of bedlam, confusion, and frustration. The jury of seven women and three men sat facing Jefferson in disbelief, as he struggled to answer questions – and the ones he did answer left the entire courtroom scratching their heads. Jefferson replied to questions from plaintiff’s attorneys with a defensively arrogant stance, speaking in a slow and deliberate manner, repetitively ending his answers with the word “counselor.” Attorney Gregg Zeff pounded Jefferson with question after question in an attempt to clarify the tangled web of corporations and committees which manage the affairs of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Jefferson admitted that he was a member of the CCJW, the US Branch Committee, and the Worldwide Order of Special Full-Time Servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses, but denied any involvement in the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York. When asked for the name of the president of Watchtower New York, he told the court “I don’t recall” despite admitting he was sent to represent CCJW and Watchtower. Jefferson spoke in circles and riddles when asked about leadership of the JW organization, refusing to answer the simple question “Who is in charge?” The day one exchange with Jefferson was so outrageous, Judge Mary C. Collins was seen restraining both anger and laughter at the same time. Mr. Zeff, in a moment of exasperation raised his voice to Jefferson and asked whether there were “human beings” in charge of this organization.
Jefferson replied:- “Are you serious?”
The questioning intensified when Mr. Zeff pressed Jefferson on the source of all of the letters sent to bodies of elders, asking him again whether any “human beings” actually wrote these letters, and if so-who are these persons. Jefferson once again dodged the question and stated that anonymous persons compose these letters, and that the persons involved may or may not be a part of the Watchtower or CCJW corporations.
Attorney Zeff, visibly irritated by the intentional obfuscation, asked Jefferson whether the CCJW was responsible for ANYTHING; Jefferson responded by asking what he meant by “responsible.” Judge Collins was unable to restrain herself any longer and turned to the witness and demanded that he answer the question. Shaken and nervous, Jefferson told the court that he must take time to pause…and think. Following a lengthy silence, Zeff posed the question once again, to which Jefferson said “I imagine they have to.”
Before changing his line of questioning, Zeff displayed the signature on an elder’s letter which read “Watchtower Bible and Tract Society,” forcing Jefferson to acknowledge the corporation responsible for the policies enforced by Jehovah’s Witnesses prior to the 2001 creation of the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Zeff linked multiple Watchtower documents with policies which have restricted Witness elders from reporting child abuse to the proper authorities, making it clear which organization is responsible.
Moments later, Thomas Jefferson unbelievably denied that Watchtower writes anything, stating that they only “publish” and distribute these letters, but have nothing to do with their production. (referring to all letters before 2001)
Zeff questioned Jefferson on whether elders are sanctioned if they disobey the contents of these letters, which was followed by a song and dance from Jefferson and the indecisive and false statement that elders “may or may not” be censured for disobedience. When Jefferson mentioned that a Governing Body appointed Circuit Overseer may be involved in disqualifying an elder, Zeff did not miss the opportunity to ask whether the Jehovah’s Witness Governing Body are associated with Watchtower or the Christian Congregation. Jefferson’s response: NO.
As if to say “I’m not done scrambling your brains just yet, jury” – Jefferson responds to the next seemingly simple question posed by Zeff, which was ‘should clergy report child abuse?’ After an objection from the Watchtower defense team, Jefferson states that he cannot answer the question because Jehovah’s Witness elders are not clergymen. This question set off a debate which lasted for two days. (more on that later)
Attorney Zeff then followed a line of questioning forcing Jefferson to admit that elders investigate accusations of child abuse using their own judicial process. Jefferson further had to confess that Witness elders have no professional training in counseling, psychology or other relevant levels of expertise; yet amazingly he insisted that they did receive “training.” Zeff followed up by telling Jefferson that elders are in no way qualified to judge the genuineness or seriousness of an allegation of child abuse.
Jefferson arrogantly replied: “incorrect”
Zeff asked Jefferson whether he had any evidence from Watchtower publications to back that statement up. After a non-answer from junk-testimony Jefferson, Judge Collins stepped in and scolded Jefferson, telling him the question is “perfectly clear”. Zeff pressed the witness hard, asking him for his beliefs on this subject, to which Jefferson replied: “Are my beliefs on trial?”
Again, Judge Collins rebuked Jefferson adamantly and warned him to refrain from making any such comments, advising him to just answer the question. Unbelievably, Jefferson responds by saying that Watchtower is a corporate entity and does not “believe” anything.
Continuing his salvo of questions, Zeff asks Jefferson if he is aware that professionals exist in the field of child abuse detection and counseling, to which Jefferson reluctantly agrees. He then asks Jefferson if he is aware that the state of Pennsylvania wants those professionals involved whenever an accusation of child abuse occurs. Jefferson states that he was not aware of this, aside from when Judge Collins stated this to the jury at the outset of this trial. I remember thinking that Jefferson testified that he was in court on behalf of the legal department of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and to defend Watchtower and the CCJW – yet somehow after years of preparation for this trial, having been prepped by Watchtower’s extensive legal team, he is suddenly unaware that Pennsylvania has a mandatory law requiring the reporting of accusations of child abuse. Clearly the jury was not buying this.
Attorney Zeff then puts Jefferson on the spot regarding the matter of elders reading all letters from Watchtower; Jefferson stated that reading all letters is not required, but that elders would be expected to read all direction on child abuse from Watchtower prior to beginning an investigation. He was then asked whether elders could be sanctioned or stripped of their positions if they failed to follow Watchtower’s counsel. Reluctantly, Jefferson admitted that this is “possible.” Zeff followed by asking “has this ever happened?” Jefferson’s reply: “I don’t know.” As anyone with any experience in the Jehovah’s Witness organization knows very well, if an elder fails to follow direction from headquarters, his position as elder will vanish instantly. Jefferson knows this very well.
Nearing the end of the first day of trial, Zeff calls Jefferson’s attention to one of the most damaging pieces of evidence in this case, the July 1, 1989 letter to elders. This six page letter was stamped CONFIDENTIAL – and Watchtower meant it. This letter was so damaging to the defense, that when it was subpoenaed, Watchtower redacted nearly the entire document, with few exceptions. The plaintiff’s legal team only learned of the full contents of this letter by searching sources outside of Watchtower, and when the contents were revealed, this case was sealed.
Zeff calls Jefferson’s attention to the purpose of this letter, as stated on page 2:
“Hence, a growing number of vindictive or disgruntled ones, as well as opposers, have initiated lawsuits to inflict financial penalties on the individual, the congregation, or the Society. Many of these lawsuits are the result of the misuse of the tongue.”
He rephrased this paragraph by emphatically telling Jefferson that the real meaning is “Keep you mouth shut or you might get sued.” Jefferson disagreed, but the damage was done. The jury begins to understand the cloak of secrecy surrounding Watchtower. Protection of the organization and its assets has increasingly become the motivation behind the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal strategy, placing corporations ahead of the welfare of its own children. Day one ends in disaster for Watchtower, with final testimony from Jefferson looming on the horizon.