EX-JUDGE ACCUSED OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Posted January 3, 2018 4:56 p.m. EST
A former Texas justice and prominent conservative religious leader has been accused in a state court lawsuit of sexually abusing a Houston man for decades, starting when he was a teenager.
The lawsuit, filed in Harris County court, claims Paul Pressler III sexually assaulted Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. beginning in 1979, when Rollins was 14 and Pressler was a justice on Texas' 14th Court of Appeals, and continuing until 2004.
Pressler, now 87, who served on the appeals court from 1978-1992, is a former state representative and former state district judge who was elected first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002. The suit describes Pressler as a leader in the "conservative resurgence" movement among Southern Baptists.
Rollins worked in 2003 and 2004 as a personal assistant to Pressler and attended the same church as Pressler beginning as a teenager, according to court documents. Those documents include two letters ostensibly written by Pressler in 2000 and 2002 trying to gain Rollins' release from prison.
The suit, a revised version of which was filed Dec. 14, seeks more than $1 million in damages.
Also named as defendants are Jared Woodfill, Pressler's former law partner and former head of the Republican Party in Harris County; the First Baptist Church of Houston; the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth and its president, Paige Patterson; and Pressler's wife, Nancy.
The suit claims the other defendants knew or should have known about the alleged assaults and could have stopped them.
Pressler has categorically denied all of the allegations in court filings, as did the other defendants, and his lawyer filed a motion Thursday afternoon asking that the case be thrown out of court.
"Mr. Rollins is clearly a deeply troubled man, with a track record of multiple felonies and incarceration," Pressler's attorney, Ted Tredennick, said in a statement, "and it is the height of irresponsibility that anyone would present such a bizarre and frivolous case - much less report on it."
Tredennick declined to answer any questions beyond the written statement.
The suit claims Rollins sustained ongoing mental health issues as a result of abuse that led to problems with alcohol and drugs, and to his incarceration in Texas prisons eight times for drunken driving, possession of controlled substances, forgery, burglary and parole violations.
A series of court cases
It's not the first time Rollins has sued Pressler - he filed suit in July 2004 with his mother, Margaret Duryea, but the suit was dismissed two months later after an apparent settlement was reached, according to records with the Dallas County District Clerk's Office and Harris County courts.
The case file containing the 2004 lawsuit has since been destroyed by Dallas County, as allowed under state law. But Rollins' attorney, Daniel Shea, who also represented him in Dallas, provided a copy of the 2004 lawsuit, which accuses Pressler of physically assaulting Rollins during a trip to Dallas in November 2003.
In August 2016, Rollins filed a notice of intent to file a lawsuit against Pressler in Harris County to force him to set aside funds to pay out the remaining balance of the 2004 settlement agreement through 2029. That's when the payments are set to end, according to court documents.
Neither Woodfill, who represented Pressler in 2004, nor Shea would provide the Chronicle a copy of the settlement agreement. But the court documents filed in 2016 link the settlement directly to the 2004 lawsuit.
The notice seeks to question Pressler under oath about the settlement agreement.
The latest lawsuit, initially filed in October before being amended earlier this month, accuses Pressler of ongoing sexual assaults over a period of years as Rollins moved from high school to college and later to multiple stints in prison.
Rollins met Pressler when he entered high school and joined a Bible study Pressler led, according to court documents. The suit says Rollins was raped two to three times a month, mostly at Pressler's home.
The abuse "was always in the master bedroom study, to which he retired with Duane, door closed, with his wife Nancy usually on the premises," according to the suit.
The suit claims the Bible study was done through First Baptist Church, but attorney Barry Flynn said the church has no record of Pressler ever leading any youth groups there. He said the Bible study may have been through another church.
In the motion filed this week to have the lawsuit dismissed, Pressler's lawyer argues that Rollins waited too long to file the legal action, since by his own admission the last alleged assault would have been in 2004. The statute of limitations would have expired by 2009 for any of the allegations raised in the suit, according to the motion.
Pressler's lawyer rejects the argument from Rollins that those statutes do not apply because of the resurfacing of repressed memories.
Rollins began racking up criminal charges after he began college, starting with a 1985 misdemeanor charge of possessing marijuana in Harris County. By 2014, he had been charged six times with driving while intoxicated; twice with theft; multiple counts of forgery; and three times with possession of a controlled substance, including heroin.
During his last stint in prison on a 2014 DWI case, Rollins made an outcry to a prison psychologist in 2015 about years of abuse by Pressler, according to the suit.
After Rollins was paroled in 2016, Shea recommended he see a psychologist, Dr. Harvey A. Rosenstock, who concluded Rollins was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. Rosenstock, who Shea said is not a hired expert, said Rollins was self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, according to documents filed with the latest lawsuit.
The recent lawsuit avoids the statute of limitations because the repressed memories only recently came to light, Shea said.
Offers of help
Pressler outlined a close relationship with Rollins in two letters sent to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles in 2000 and 2002, urging that he be released on parole. The letters were included in court filings in Harris County.
Pressler wrote in the first letter that Rollins - the youngest of five children - struggled after his parents divorced, and he promised to talk to him "every day except for when I am out of town," if Rollins were released.
After the state board rejected the parole request, Pressler wrote again in 2002.
"I have known Duane most of his life," Pressler wrote. "He was in the youth group at church which my wife and I led when he was in high school. ... He is a gentle person who has never done any physical violence to anyone, but one who has made some very serious mistakes. ... I am very excited about the possibility of Duane's parole."
Pressler wrote that his law firm, Woodfill and Pressler, would provide Rollins with a job as a personal assistant to Pressler once he was released from prison.
"I would be personally involved in every bit of Duane's life with supervision and control," Pressler wrote. "I have various speaking engagements and would want him to travel with me and drive for me. I also need him to handle miscellaneous matters for me."
Rollins was released in 2003 and worked for the Woodfill and Pressler law firm until 2004 on a contract basis, Woodfill confirmed. During that time, Rollins accompanied Pressler on a trip to Algeria, the suit says, but does not include any allegation of misconduct.
Shea said he could not comment on why his client did not seek criminal charges rather than a civil case now or in 2004, saying that fell beyond his purview.
Shea is perhaps best known for suing a Harris County judge who posted the Ten Commandments in a courtroom, and for attempting to sue the pope in federal court in 2005 over sexual abuse of minors by priests.
Shea also represented some plaintiffs in Massachusetts when sexual abuse scandals plagued the Boston and Worcester Archdioceses in the early 2000s.
Shea has had a rocky history in Texas. His law license was suspended in 2013 for 18 months for professional misconduct and was reinstated in October 2014, though he remained on probation until March 2017, according to the State Bar of Texas website. A state bar disciplinary report published in the Texas Bar Journal said he entered into a contract with a client that was unfair and unreasonable, without the client's written consent to the terms. He was ordered to pay more than $38,000 in restitution to the client.
A hearing has been set for Jan. 17 on the recent lawsuit. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has asked that the case be transferred to Tarrant County.