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Morning Star Boys’ Ranch

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

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Summary

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.

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