April 28, 2010 in City

Appeal in Morning Star case targets witness ruling

Judge had said others claiming abuse can’t testify
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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With jury selection set to begin Monday in the second Morning Star Boys’ Ranch sex abuse lawsuit, attorneys for a former ranch resident are seeking to delay the trial while they appeal a Spokane County Superior Court judge’s decision limiting the testimony of other alleged victims.

Attorneys for plaintiff George H. Minehart II are asking the state Court of Appeals for Division III to review Judge Kathleen O’Connor’s ruling last week that only former ranch residents who reported abuse at the time of the alleged incidents can testify.

O’Connor’s ruling is consistent with her decision in the first of 18 lawsuits against Morning Star. In February, a unanimous jury found against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam.

Like Putnam, Minehart, 42, claims to have been abused by the ranch’s former director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner. Minehart also claims to have been abused by two former counselors and a former resident of the ranch.

Unless it is overturned by the Appeals Court, O’Connor’s ruling is expected to stand in each Morning Star trial, all of which have been assigned to her.

Minehart’s Spokane attorney, Martin Gales, said the judge’s decision allows four former residents to testify but excludes six others who claim to have been abused at the boys ranch.

“We are asking the Court of Appeals to make sure she is right,” Gales said.

The attorney said that precluding other victims from testifying prevents him from presenting evidence of civil conspiracy by Morning Star to conceal the alleged abuse.

Minehart claims that Morning Star administrators knew or should have known that child sexual abuse was occurring at the ranch and did nothing to stop it.

Gales said he believes the judge is putting too much emphasis on whether the alleged victims reported the abuse as boys “on the assumption that a witness who says he contemporaneously disclosed his sexual abuse is inherently more reliable.”

Gales said studies have shown only 12 percent of abused boys report the abuse within a year.

Morning Star attorneys declined comment on the motion for review.

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