Jehovah’s Witnesses ordered to pay $28 million to a woman who was a victim of sexual child abuse
The Alameda County Superior Court jury on June 14 2012 awarded $21 million in punitive damages to the 26 years old plaintiff Candace Conti who was a victim of sexual child abuse while growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. The $21 million are on top of the $7 million in compensatory damages the court jury awarded her a day before. Candace Conti is a San Joaquin County resident.
The legal entity of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, is responsible for the entire punitive damages amount and 40 percent of the compensatory damages, said Rick Simons, attorney for Candace Conti. Sixty percent of the compensatory damages was assessed against Jonathan David Kendrick, the man accused of abusing Candace Conti.
Kendrick, a 58 year old Contra Costa County resident went on to molest the plaintiff over a two-year period beginning when she was 9 years old. He was eventually convicted in 2004 of the sexual abuse of another girl, and is now a registered sex offender in the state of California. He has not been criminally charged with abusing the plaintiff but the case is under investigation by law enforcement.
Candace Conti sued The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, the Fremont, Calif., congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jonathan Kendrick back in 2011. She contended that the Jehovah’s Witness elders acting under the authority of The Watchtower Society knew about the risk of sexual child abuse, but kept it under the veil.
(article continues below video)
Update: NBC video added:
In a news release Candace Conti said: “I once wanted to be the best Jehovah’s Witness I could be. Now I feel I’m doing more to help other children in Jehovah’s Witnesses than I ever did walking door to door to spread the ‘good news’”.
Candace Conti said Kendrick had taken her along when he went door to door with her in neighborhoods spreading the good news of God’s Kingdom. She said he “was a member of our congregation, and he became a friend of our family. It was a really troubling time for my parents, and I think he took advantage of that.”
The Alameda County Superior Court jury found that the Jehovah’s Witness elders who managed the Fremont congregation in the 1990s and who were under the supervision of The Watchtower Society knew that Kendrick, a member of Jehovah’s Witnesses and a minist, had recently been convicted of the sexual abuse of another child, but they kept his past record secret from the congregation, said Simons.
The lawsuit alleged that The Watchtower Society had a policy that instructed elders in its Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations to keep reports of child sex abusers within the religious group secret to avoid lawsuits.
The sexual abused woman filed the lawsuit after trying, without success, to get Jehovah’s Witnesses in Southern California and in Fremont to change the secrecy policy.
“There was no settlement demand from her because she felt the only way to expose this policy and make it change was to bring this case to trial and make it public. The money is the only way left for her to force Jehovah’s Witnesses to stop keep hiding known sex offenders within their congregation,” said Rick Simons, attorney for the victim of the pedophile.
The attorneys in this case said they believed the punitive damage awards are the largest a single alleged victim of sexual abuse has ever won against a religious organization. They said it may also represent the first time a church has been held responsible for the alleged sexual abuse of a congregant, rather than a priest or high church official.
Jim McCabe, an attorney for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, called the verdict “outrageous” and said he would appeal. He said elders at the Fremont congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses acted appropriately after Kendrick confessed to them in 1993 that he had touched his young stepdaughter’s breast.
“The elders watched him after that,” McCabe said. “They met with the family, and the family seemed like they were working it out. No one saw him do anything inappropriate after that, or heard anything inappropriate.”
The elders admonished Kendrick to stay away from children and put him under ‘restrictions’ though his fellow congregants were not told the reason and police were not notified.
It’s noteworthy that plaintiff Candace Conti was not in it for the money. She only requested damages of 144,000 cents ($1,440) dollars to be paid: one cent for every member of the ‘Faithful and Discreet Slave’. The amount given her was decided upon by the Alameda County Superior Court jury (see copy of court-file below)
(updated June 16 2012 with new information. The picture at the left is a mugshot of Jonathan David Kendrick)