Texas Supreme Court denies Pressler petition
Court allows sex-abuse lawsuit against former SBC leader to continue
The Texas Supreme Court has sided with a man claiming to be the victim of sexual abuse in a controversial lawsuit involving longtime Southern Baptist leader and former state judge Paul Pressler.
Gareld Duane Rollins Jr. said in a 2017 lawsuit that Pressler raped and molested him for 24 years, beginning in 1980 when Rollins was 14 years old. The lawsuit includes other defendants, including the Southern Baptist Convention, for allegedly covering up Pressler’s abuse.
A lower court initially dismissed Rollins’ case on the grounds that it exceeded the state’s five-year statute of limitations. Rollins’ attorney appealed, arguing the statute did not apply because his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and memory repression as a result of the abuse, making it impossible for him to sue in a timely manner. In February 2021 a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals of the First District of Texas remanded the case back to trial court, instructing the trial court to reconsider the matter of the statute of limitations.
On April 1, the Texas Supreme Court (with two judges dissenting and two not participating) denied a petition from Pressler’s attorney Edward Tredennick and other defendants, including the SBC, to review the appellate court’s decision. The defendants have 30 days to file a motion for a rehearing.
Michael Goldberg, who is representing Rollins, said the Texas Supreme Court would likely overturn a motion to rehear the case. He said such a motion would be an “outrageous” attempt to further delay the case from going to trial.
Pressler, a former Texas appeals court judge, is credited as a driver of the Conservative Resurgence, a historic shift back to Biblical orthodoxy in the SBC’s institutions in the late 20th century. He held numerous leadership positions in the SBC and its churches. From 1984 to 1991, he was a member of the SBC Executive Committee, an elected group that manages the convention’s budget and makes decisions between its annual meetings of delegates from local churches.
In two investigative reports, WORLD detailed evidence we found spanning a 40-year period in which two young men, one of them being Rollins, said Pressler sexually assaulted them and three others alleged he made unwanted sexual advances. WORLD also found evidence that a few Baptist leaders knew of accusations of misconduct but did not take action to protect young men once the accusations surfaced.
Pressler, 91, has denied all wrongdoing through his attorney. Tredennick did not respond to WORLD’s phone and email messages on Thursday. Attorneys representing the SBC, and Pressler’s former law partner Jared Woodfill, did not respond to WORLD email inquiries. Barry Flynn, attorney for First Baptist church, where Pressler attended from 1978 to 2007, declined to comment for this report.
Pressler’s attorney argued the appellate court “ignored conclusive evidence of [Rollins’] sound mind when his alleged claims accrued.” He said the court’s “breathtakingly new situational insanity rule” does not take into account a plaintiff’s overall mental competence.
Goldberg said after years of waiting, Rollins wants the chance to prove his case in court and to shed light on what happened: “This case is about ethics. … It’s about allowing people to come forward with what was and wasn’t done to these young people.”