Court says LDS Church must release long-veiled financial information

PORTLAND, Ore. — The Oregon Supreme Court rejected an effort by the Mormon church to withhold financial information from the lawyers for a man who claims a “home teacher” frequently molested him about 20 years ago.

Despite the legal defeat, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints did not immediately release the detailed financial information about its net worth, The Oregonian newspaper reported.

Kelly Clark, an attorney for the Oregon man suing the church, said it would be good for a jury to have the information before considering his request for $45 million in punitive damages. A trial is scheduled for Aug. 6.

“A jury needs to know the entire financial context to know whether a punitive award is too much or sufficient or not enough,” Clark said.

The LDS church sought emergency relief from a trial court order to turn over the financial information, but the Oregon Supreme Court late Monday rejected the appeal. The pretrial decision was reached on narrow pretrial grounds and doesn’t mean the court would not ultimately side with the church’s position that the Constitution protects its right to keep financial information private.

“The church is considering its position,” Stephen F. English, the LDS church’s lead Portland attorney, told the newspaper. “The church respects the rule of law but has profound constitutional concerns based on its constitutional right to protect the free expression of its religion.”

The LDS church has not released financial information since 1959.

“It’s the secret of secrets,” said Timothy N. Kosnoff, a Seattle attorney who sought the information in 2001 on behalf of a former Oregon man who claimed he was sexually abused by an LDS Sunday school teacher.

Kosnoff never got the information because the church agreed to pay his client $3 million.

The latest bid to expose the church’s net worth stems from a lawsuit filed last year that accuses Kenneth I. Johnson Jr. of molesting a Beaverton youth as often as twice a week in the late 1980s.

Johnson, who has denied the accusation, was the boy’s home teacher, a church-sanctioned lay official authorized to provide educational and religious guidance, according to the suit.

English said Johnson was acting as a family friend, not a church official, and LDS church officials did not know about the alleged abuse while it was happening.

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, AP, via The Salt Lake Tribune, July 12, 2007,

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 12, 2007.
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