A state appeals court has upheld $2 million in legal sanctions against the Jehovah’s Witnesses after the religious organization refused to produce internal files and documents in a lawsuit that alleges sexual misconduct by a former elder in the organization.
Osbaldo Padron sued the local Playa Pacifica Congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, also known as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society. Padron claimed he was molested on multiple occasions as a child by Gonzalo Campos, who was also associated with the Pacifica Congregation.
Padron’s attorney, Irwin Zalkin, obtained internal church documents through the legal discovery process. Zalkin agreed to a confidentiality and nondisclosure agreement, which was signed by both parties to the litigation.
But in 2015, a dispute arose over Watchtower’s refusal to produce additional documents requested by Zalkin.
The organization argued, in part, that the order, issued by Superior Court Judge Richard Strauss, violates its First Amendment rights as a religious organization.
Judge Strauss disagreed, and last year imposed monetary sanctions of $4,000 a day for every day Watchtower failed to search for and produce the documents.
Watchtower appealed Strauss’s order, and on Nov. 9, a three-member panel of the state Court of Appeals upheld Strauss’s ruling.
In a unanimous decision written by Acting Presiding Justice Richard Huffman, the justices said Watchtower has abused the legal process and must pay the court-ordered sanctions.
Plaintiff’s attorney Zalkin says the sanctions started on April 16, 2016, and at $4000 a day, now total more than $2 million dollars.
In the conclusion to their 39-page ruling, the justices said: "... the superior court has shown great patience and flexibility in dealing with a recalcitrant litigant who refuses to follow valid orders and merely reiterates losing arguments."
The alleged molester, Gonzalo Campos, could not be found for comment.
Watchtower’s public information office responded with a brief comment when asked about the appellate court ruling:
"We are evaluating our legal options at this time," the organization said.
In papers filed in the Padron lawsuit, Watchtower denies Padron’s allegations of abuse and argues that even if an elder did molest a child, the parent organization has no control over that abuse, and is not responsible for harm done to that child.