Utah company and lawmaker helped Mormons hide abuse

By MICHAEL REZENDES and JASON DEAREN, Associated Press

Three children who were sexually abused by their father accuse a Utah state legislator and a prominent Salt Lake City law firm of conspiring with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to cover up the abuse, allowing it to last for years.

In a Cochise County, Arizona court filing released Wednesday, the children of the late Paul Adams asked a judge for permission to add Republican state Rep. Merrill F. Nelson and law firm Kirton McConkie as defendants in their lawsuit against the church, known as the Mormon Church.

The lawsuit accuses the Mormon church of failing to inform police or child protection officials that Adams was abusing his oldest daughter.

In 2010, Adams confessed to his bishop, John Herrod, that he had sexually abused his daughter, according to court records. Herrod reported the abuse to a church “abuse helpline” and was advised not to report it to police or child protection officials. The abuse was kept secret, and Adams continued to rape his eldest daughter and younger sister for several years. Adams was later accused by federal officials of posting abuse videos on the internet.

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Herrod’s decision not to report came after speaking with Nelson, according to church records included as evidence in the case. Nelson was a shareholder in Kirton McConkie, which has more than 160 attorneys, according to its website. Nelson was one of several attorneys in the firm who regularly fielded calls from bishops to the hotline.

In their legal brief, the Adams children – two daughters and a son – say new evidence from the church “unveiled a growing group that knew about the criminal misconduct of the Adams family but did not tell it. ‘never reported to the police’.

For example, Kirton McConkie’s attorney, Peter Schofield, was also consulted in the Adams case, according to new pre-trial testimony that has been reviewed by The Associated Press. Like Nelson, Schofield has been associated with the helpline for many years, according to legal documents, and is currently one of the lawyers defending the church in the Adams lawsuit.

Lawyers for the three Adams children said they have no further comment on their latest legal filing. A church spokesperson declined to comment.

Nelson, who recently announced his retirement from the Legislative Assembly, did not immediately return a message seeking comment from the AP. He defended the church’s use of the hotline in the Adams case. During an AP interview in September, Nelson said, “It looks to me like it worked as planned.” The veteran lawmaker’s remarks came before it was reported that Nelson had responded to Herrod’s call about abuse.

Schofield had no immediate comment.

In a taped interview with Department of Homeland Security agents, Herrod said he called the hotline and was told Arizona law prohibited him from reporting Adams abuse. , leaving him feeling like he could be prosecuted if he did. But Arizona’s Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Act provides blanket civil and criminal immunity for anyone who reports child sexual abuse information to civil authorities.

In August, the AP reported that Adams told Herrod he had sexually abused his eldest daughter, identified as MJ, in 2010. Church attorneys said Herrod, and later another bishop , Robert “Kim” Mauzy, had legally withheld information about MJ’s abuse from the law. application under the state’s “penitent clergy privilege”.

Although Arizona law requires clergy and other professionals to report child sexual abuse and neglect, it allows clergy to withhold information if it is obtained during a spiritual confession. Arizona is one of 33 states that maintains the clergy-penitent privilege loophole, which exempts clergy of all denominations from having to report child abuse if they learn of the crime in a denominational setting.

The AP’s investigation in August revealed a system, centered on the helpline, to screen all accusations of child sexual abuse within the church before reporting the information to civil authorities.

This included a policy of destroying all helpline call recordings at the end of each day, according to the AP’s findings. Meanwhile, all calls referring to serious cases of abuse, including those involving bishops or abuse of church property, are immediately referred to attorneys for Kirton McConkie, who insists that the calls are confidential and beyond the reach of law enforcement under attorney-client privilege.

In their court filing, attorneys for the three Adams children argue that the Church’s requirement that bishops call the hotline before notifying law enforcement about reports of child sexual abuse will against Arizona law, which requires clergy and other professions to “report immediately” any information. about the sexual exploitation of children to the police or child protection authorities.

William Maledon, an attorney representing the church in the Arizona lawsuit, argues that the word “immediately” in the statute is open to interpretation. “Who knows what ‘immediately’ means in this context?” he asked during an interview with AP in July. “You can argue that means as soon as you determine that you have an obligation to report. That’s how I would interpret it, and I think any good lawyer would interpret it.

In addition to Nelson and Kirton McConkie, attorneys for the Adams children seek permission to add as additional co-conspirators Paul Adams’ wife, Leizza Adams, and “LDS Family Services,” a separate church-affiliated company. . In legal affidavits, church officials said calls to the helpline are answered by social workers from LDS Family Services. Under Utah’s Child Sexual Abuse Reporting Act, social workers are required to report information about actual or suspected child sexual abuse to civil authorities, according to the new filing.

Church attorneys say that in the Adams case, all hotline calls made by Herrod and Mauzy were taken by Kirton McConkie’s attorneys. “All were with lawyers or para-professionals,” Maledon said during the July interview. “None of them in this case were with anyone other than a lawyer or attorney.”

Paul Adams committed suicide in custody in 2017, after being arrested by Homeland Security agents. Leizza Adams spent more than two years in state prison for child sexual abuse. Three of their six children were taken in by members of Leizza Adams’ extended family. The other three were adopted by families in Arizona and filed suit against the church.

Follow Jason Dearen and Michael Rezendes on Twitter at @JHDearen and @MikeRezendes. Contact the AP Global Investigation Team at [email protected] or https://www.ap.org/tips/.

Associated Press religious coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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