Sex abuse suit against Mormon church awaits Court ruling

By Carson Walker
Sioux Falls, South Dakota (AP) 2-08

A federal lawsuit filed by a man who accused a Mormon missionary of sexually abusing him in the 1960s is on hold until the South Dakota Supreme Court resolves a legal question.

Ferris Joseph, 52, filed the civil case in U.S. District Court in South Dakota against the Corporation of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Latter-day Saints, both of Utah.

Joseph said that around 1968, when he was 11 or 12 years old, he was sexually abused by church missionary Robert Lewis White.

Joseph is an American Indian who lived with his family in Sioux Falls from 1966 to 1968, according to the lawsuit. The abuse happened at White’s apartment in Flandreau, it states.

White was based at the Northern Indian Mission in Rapid City and was assigned to Flandreau, in eastern South Dakota, where the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe is located.

Joseph had no memory of the abuse until an October 2004 visit to Canada to see his sister, a devout member of the Mormon church, according to the complaint.

In a deposition transcript filed in court, White denied sexually abusing Joseph or any other boy and testified that he was celibate when he served in Flandreau in 1967 and 1968.

James McMahon, a Sioux Falls lawyer representing the Mormon church, filed a motion that asks a federal magistrate to rule on the case before the trial, in part because the statute of limitations had expired.

Adam Horowitz, a Miami attorney representing Joseph, argued that the request should not be granted because the civil lawsuit was filed within three years of Joseph recalling the abuse, which falls within the legal time frame.

In a ruling filed January of 08, U.S. Magistrate John Simko sided with Joseph on most points and denied McMahon’s request.

The trial was to have started towards the end of Febuary but Simko put it on hold so the state Supreme Court can decide whether the law dealing with the statute of limitations would apply to the church as well as the alleged perpetrator.

“The question pending in United States District Court is one of South Dakota law which may determine the outcome of the case pending in United States District Court,” Simko wrote.

McMahon was out of town unavailable for comment.

Horowitz said the Supreme Court ruling will apply beyond the Joseph lawsuit.

“It will have far-reaching application beyond this case. However the court rules, it will affect other churches, it will affect other employers, it will affect other organizations as well,” he said.