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Morning Star Boys’ Ranch

Summary

Fog and rain hang over the Morning Star Boys Ranch on Moran Prairie in this file photo.

Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, a longtime group home for troubled boys in southeast Spokane, became the target of numerous lawsuits by former residents alleging physical and sexual abuse. Ranch supporters and its former director say the ranch has been sullied by the abuse allegations, which they vehemently deny. They say the Catholic-based nonprofit organization has provided a safe environment for more than 1,300 boys with behavioral problems for more than 50 years.

The first of 19 sex abuse lawsuits against the ranch went to trial early in 2010, and on Feb. 12 that year, a jury handed Morning Star a victory, ruling against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam, who claims he was molested while a resident in 1988 and ’89. Seattle attorney Tim Kosnoff’s law firm represents 14 other plaintiffs in suits against the boys’ ranch. Kosnoff said he intended to bring his strongest cases to trial first.

Defense attorney Jim King said he intends to defend Morning Star and its former director, the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, in every case that goes to trial. Attorneys for the ranch have shown no signs that they would consider a settlement, in contrast to the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, which in 2007 settled with 180 plaintiffs claiming to have been sexually abused by priests.

Allegations of abuse at the ranch surfaced in 2005, beginning with two former residents who accused ranch employees of sexual and physical abuse. More former wards of the ranch came forward with abuse allegations in the following months. The suits named Weitensteiner, defrocked priest and admitted pedophile Patrick O’Donnell, and several counselors.

The state continues to place boys in the care of the ranch.

Key people

  • Jim King

    Jim King, an attorney with Spokane law firm Evans, Craven & Lackie, is the lead defense attorney for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. He has litigated many medical malpractice, employment, professional negligence, worksite/premises liability and wrongful death cases in Eastern Washington and North Idaho in his career.

  • Timothy Kosnoff

    Timothy Kosnoff is a Seattle attorney who specializes in child sexual abuse cases. His firm represents Kenneth Putnam and 14 other plaintiffs in lawsuits against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch. He has prevailed in abuse cases involving the Boy Scouts of America, several Catholic dioceses, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, the Salvation Army, the Jesuits and other religious orders.

  • Kenneth Putnam

    Kenneth Putnam was sent to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch as a ward of the court in 1986. He has alleged that the Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner molested him when he was 13 or 14 years old on the priest’s boat, in his car and at his home at St. Patrick’s Parish in northeast Spokane. Also, Putnam says counselor Doyle Gillum, now deceased, molested him in a boy’s bedroom at the ranch on two occasions. Putnam has a criminal history dating to 1988 that includes felony theft, burglary, assault and drug convictions.

  • Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner retired as director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in 2006. He began as a ranch counselor in the 1960s and was promoted to director of Morning Star after he was ordained a Catholic priest in 1966. Weitensteiner had admitted to administering corporal punishment to ranch residents but has steadfastly denied more serious allegations of abuse of boys, including sexual abuse.

Latest updates in this topic


  • Diocese returns Morning Star ranch priest to ministry

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the former director of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, has been reinstated as an active priest after the last sex abuse claims against him were rejected by …


  • Weitensteiner, longtime director of Morning Star Boys Ranch, reinstated as priest

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner, the former director of the Morning Star Boys Ranch, has been reinstated into the active Catholic ministry after sex abuse claims against him were denied by …


  • Morning Star boys care for goat litter

    Four new kids arrived at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch on July 1. But unlike the 18 boys living there, these kids don’t get a private room. Instead, they are staying …


  • Spokane Park Board resolution honors Jim Quigley

    The Spokane Park Board this week honored its vice president who died last month. Jim Quigley, 79, who worked as a dentist for about four decades in Spokane, served on …


  • Parishes giving $1.5 million toward settling sex cases

    Catholic parishes are contributing $1.5 million toward a broad legal settlement expected to help the church resolve clergy sex abuse claims and avoid the foreclosure of churches and schools. It’s …


  • Boys’ Ranch reaches deal

    Nineteen lawsuits against the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch have been settled, part of a larger settlement that’s expected to sew shut all of the outstanding legal issues surrounding the clergy …


  • Boys ranch joins talks on abuse claims

    A mediation effort designed to resolve ongoing legal problems faced by the Catholic Diocese of Spokane now includes the Morning Star Boys Ranch, according to court records. It sets up …


  • Morning Star joins diocese in mediation effort

    A mediation effort designed to resolve ongoing legal problems faced by the Catholic Diocese of Spokane now includes the Morning Star Boys Ranch, according to court records. It sets up …


  • DSHS settles abuse case from ’70s for $1.7 million

    A Spokane man molested in the 1970s after being placed as a foster child in the home of a convicted child molester will be paid $1.7 million by the state …


  • Judge overturns contempt finding of Catholic Diocese

    A senior federal judge in Spokane reversed a lower court order Monday and cleared the Spokane Catholic Diocese and its lawyers of contempt. It was a rare legal win for …


  • Ruling puts parishes at risk of foreclosure

    The Spokane Catholic Diocese must raise more than $800,000 this fall, some of it due in two weeks, to pay sex abuse claims or risk defaulting on its bankruptcy obligations …


  • Abuse payments sap diocese fund, putting churches at risk

    The Catholic Diocese of Spokane is broaching a consequence of its bankruptcy once thought unthinkable – the sale of churches to pay victims of clergy sex abuse. New claims of …


  • Rulings upheld in boys ranch case

    A state appeals court panel has declined to review a judge’s decision to limit the number of witnesses who may testify in the second child sex abuse lawsuit against Morning …


  • Former resident sues Morning Star

    An Alaska man is suing Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, claiming that he was sexually abused nearly 30 years ago by the ranch’s former director, as well as by other residents. …


  • Morning Star suit awaiting ruling

    A lawsuit against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch by a former resident who claims to have been abused there has been stayed by the state Court of Appeals while that court …


  • Court delays Morning Star trial pending review

    A lawsuit against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch by a former resident who claims to have been abused there has been stayed by the state Court of Appeals while that court …


  • Boys ranch trial delayed one week

    A Spokane County Superior Court judge agreed on Thursday to delay trial of the second child sex abuse lawsuit against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch for one week while the state …


  • Appeal in Morning Star case targets witness ruling

    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 …


  • Spokane diocese paid boys ranch accusers

    Although a jury last month rejected Kenneth Putnam’s sex abuse allegations against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, the Catholic Diocese of Spokane had already paid Putnam a settlement worth hundreds of …


  • Jury clears Morning Star in first sex abuse lawsuit

    A unanimous jury ruled against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam on Friday, handing victory to Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in the first of 19 sex abuse lawsuits to go to trial. Putnam, …


  • Jury decides in favor of Morning Star

    A jury today found against plaintiff Kenneth Putnam in the first of 19 lawsuits against Morning Star Boys’ Ranch scheduled for trial in Spokane County Superior Court.


  • 2 jurors removed from Boys’ Ranch case

    Two jurors will be removed from deliberations in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch sexual abuse case because of misconduct. Two alternate jurors will be brought in.


  • Jury deliberates abuse case

    Jurors in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch trial began deliberations Tuesday afternoon after opposing attorneys tried to define the case as all about accountability or all about profit. “This case …


  • Morning Star abuse case goes to jurors

    Jurors in the Morning Star Boys’ Ranch trial began deliberations Tuesday afternoon after opposing attorneys tried to define the case as all about accountability or all about profit.


  • Defense questions accuser

    Attorneys defending Morning Star Boys’ Ranch rested their case on Monday after bringing the ranch’s accuser, Kenneth Putnam, to the stand in the civil trial’s last day of testimony. Closing …


  • Accuser takes the stand again in Morning Star trial

    Attorneys defending Morning Star Boys’ Ranch rested their case on Monday after bringing the ranch’s accuser, Kenneth Putnam, to the stand in the civil trial’s last day of testimony.


  • Former ranch director denies abuse allegations

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner said Thursday that he would sometimes get angry during his 52-year career at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, but that he “never, never” sexually abused the boys …


  • Ex-ranch director denies abuse allegations

    The Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner said Thursday that he would sometimes get angry during his 52-year career at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, but that he “never, never” sexually abused the boys …


  • Lawyer refutes payoff claim

    A former attorney for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch rebutted the testimony of a witness who said the ranch’s former director paid him to keep quiet about alleged abuse in the …


  • Former ranch lawyer denies hearing about alleged payoff

    A former attorney for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch rebutted the testimony of a witness who said the ranch’s former director paid him to keep quiet about alleged abuse in the …


  • Testimony contests abuse claim

    A former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch testified Monday that Kenneth Putnam was motivated by financial gain in suing the ranch for alleged abuse. Spokane County Superior Court jurors …


  • Defense suggests financial motive in Morning Star suit

    A former resident of Morning Star Boys’ Ranch testified Monday that Kenneth Putnam was motivated by financial gain in suing the ranch for alleged abuse.

 

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