Prominent Trial Attorney Sues Patrick Edouard, Consistory, URCNA

edouard captionProminent trial attorney Roxanne Conlin, who has successfully sued Microsoft for $75,000,000 in attorney fees, has been retained to sue former URCNA pastor Patrick Edouard, Covenant Reformed Church, the Consistory, individual members of the Consistory, and the URCNA. Mr. Edouard was previously convicted of counselor abuse charges but was acquitted on sexual abuse charges

The plaintiffs are attorney Valerie Bandstra, her husband Jason Bandstra, Anne Bandstra, and her husband Ryan Bandstra, who were all members of Covenant Reformed Church.  The core facts of the petition include that Valerie Bandstra, who was receiving counseling from Reverend Edouard, was the victim of forcible sex in early 2006 followed by other sexual encounters into 2008. She transferred $20,000 into a bank account for Rev. Edouard in 2008.  The two continued to talk by telephone into 2009, including conversations of a sexual nature.  The petition further alleges that Rev. Edouard began telephone conversations with Anne Bandstra in 2008 and began having sexual intercourse with her in May of that year.  Their “sex acts” continued into December of 2010.

At that point Jason and Ryan Bandstra became aware of their spouses’ sexual involvement with Rev. Edouard and told the Consistory about it. Shortly thereafter all the plaintiffs along with Rev. Edouard met with the Consistory.  The petition alleges that the Consistory “did nothing” at that time except to distribute a letter to the congregation that characterized the sexual activity as consensual.  In September of 2012 the Bandstras sent a letter to the Consistory in which they threatened to sue if the Consistory did not take “remedial action.”

There are ten counts in the petition with different defendants depending upon the count:

  1. Assault & Battery – Mr. Edouard
  2. Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress – all Defendants
  3. Sexual Exploitation by a Counselor – Mr. Edouard
  4. Breach of Fiduciary Duty – Mr. Edouard
  5. Professional Negligence – Mr. Edouard
  6. Negligence: Mr Edouard, the Consistory, individual members of the Consistory, Covenant Reformed Chuch
  7. Respondeat Superior (holding superiors accountable for acts of those acting on their behalf) – Covenant Reformed Church, the Consistory, and the URCNA
  8. Negligent Hiring, Supervision & Retention – Covenant Reformed Church, the Consistory, and the URCNA
  9. Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress – Covenant Reformed Church, the Consistory, and the URCNA
  10. Defamation – Covenant Reformed Church, the Consistory, and three members of the Consistory individually

Under the defamation count, the petition includes a number of quotes that state or imply that Valerie and Anne Bandstra were involved in consensual sex and/or need forgiveness.

The petition was filed on December 12, 2012, in Marion County, Iowa.


Related posts: If the Defense Could Speak, Church Fredom & Subjection



Filed under Courts

25 responses to “Prominent Trial Attorney Sues Patrick Edouard, Consistory, URCNA

  1. Richard

    This is the type of thing which gives us nightmares as elders.

  2. sean

    Yikes. Does the petition state how much they are seeking in damages?

    • Not specified. But Ms. Conlin has a hearing impediment that makes her unable to hear any numbers with less than five zeros. She hears really well when there are six zeros.

      • sean

        I know a few of those cats. It’s expensive keeping up with multiple residences, appropriate attire and reliable transportation. Maybe a few other ‘unmentionable’ drains on the income.

  3. sean

    Is the anticipation that this case against, is going to track similarly to like cases against the Roman Catholic Church for sexual abuse and negligence and obstruction?

    • Sean I’m guessing the RCC is their model.
      My immediate reaction is to point out two differences. 1) The URCNA is not hierarchical like the RCC. And “broader” not higher and lower. 2) I’m guessing a conspiratorial cover up was important in going up the ladder at the RCC. I’m confident there was nothing like that here. Superiors aren’t typically responsible for the actions of truly rogue employees.
      If Richard or Mark are around, feel free to chime in.

      • Richard

        I expect the URCNA will be dismissed from this summarily, unless there is something about the URCNA credentialing, training, supervision process of which I’m unaware.

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        I’ve written more on this over on Erik Charter’s blog.

        A key issue will be whether the URCNA is considered to be a “connectional” denomination, as legally defined. (Yes, I know the URCNA likes the word “federation” rather than “denomination,” but that term has no legal definition. If the Southern Baptists are a “denomination,” clearly the URCNA is.)

        That question is not as easily determined with URC polity as it would be with denominations that are clearly congregationally-governed or denominations that are clearly presbyterian or clearly episcopal. There were some **REALLY** nasty legal battles with the CRC secession and a number of cases were settled out of court, because the issue in those situations involved control of property and there was a denominational policy on local church property splits in cases of division — a policy which should have settled the issue, if it were not for the fact that a number of local churches had not gotten good legal advice in the process of writing or updating their local articles of incorporation, and in some cases state law or state legal precedents were in conflict with synodical rules dating back many decades.

        In this case, the basic issue is whether the denomination is responsible for what the local churches do — more specifically, whether the denomination, by establishing ministerial training standards that congregations are required to meet before a pastor is ordained, becomes responsible for the conduct of ministers when they do bad things.

        The URCNA is neither fish nor fowl, legally speaking, when it comes to church government, and whatever the court decides will likely be precedent-setting. There is zero question about the intent of the founders of the URC to let churches leave with their property, but that’s not the only issue at stake, legally speaking.

        I hope that the court, after hearing testimony from the founders of the URC and the members of the URC church order study committee which drafted the URC’s rules on ministerial standards and local church property rights, will determine that the URCNA is not a connectional denomination. I think can be no serious question about the intent — remember, I was at the meetings where this was discussed, and I know quite well how “anti-synodocratic” sentiments were standard in the early days of the URC. However, it’s the job of judges to listen to what lawyers say, and trying to prove that a denomination which externally **APPEARS** to be presbyterian in its structure actually is **NOT** presbyterian may not necessarily pass the initial “smell test” with judges until a lot of witnesses get put on the stand to explain URCNA history and the intent of key items in the church order.

        Thank God, most of the founders of the URC are still alive and can testify to original intent.

        However, if the court fails to rule that the URC is a non-connectional denomination, the court decision in Iowa could have very, very serious consequences for the denomination which go far beyond this case. I think the court will make the right decision, but URCNA people need to watch this case very closely so a bad legal precedent doesn’t get set and come back to bite decades down the road.

      • DTM, thanks for the comment.

        I hope and think it won’t get as far as having to analyze the structure of the URCNA. Again, this is all first impressions, but Edouard was acting so out of line with the wishes of his employer that I don’t think the employer can be held responsible. As for negligence, the plaintiffs were on the same page with Edouard in hiding these activities from the Consistory – now they want to say the Consistory wasn’t watching Edouard enough?

        The Defamation count runs up against religious liberties issues, and invites a court to substitute its doctrine of morals for that of the church.

        I’m going to do a little bit of analysis and if I feel comfortable with it I’ll post it within the next few days.

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        I hope you’re right, Mikelmann.

        My training and experience is to prepare for the worst, pray for the best. When a highly successful feminist lawyer like Roxanne Conlin gets involved in the mix, I have to assume that the Bandstras are suing on a percentage-of-settlement-or-judgment basis. which means Conlin has the freedom to spend as much time on this case as she thinks her time is worth.

        Time will tell whether Conlin is throwing in the suit against the URCNA merely to see whether it sticks, or whether she is trying to open up an entire new venue for clergy sexual abuse lawsuits. Again, we’ll see soon whether she is serious about that or not.

        If she is, some very bad things could happen, or on the other hand, some very good things could happen by the court clearly declaring that the URCNA is not a connectional denomination. A ruling of the latter might be very important 50 or 100 years from now if, as denominations tend to do, the URCNA tried to move in a synodocratic or centralizing direction.

        The Christian Reformed Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, and probably most mainline denominations have established formal procedures to deal with sexual misconduct by clergy, including methods to report abuse to people outside the local congregation. By creating those policies, they’ve been able to at least make the argument in court that they were trying to prevent clergy sexual abuse, and the result is that the denomination probably can’t be effectively sued.

        The URCNA, to my knowledge, has no comparable procedure beyond the longstanding method of an appeal to classis by aggrieved members. I think that would be true of most conservative NAPARC denominations.

        The URCNA has unique characteristics that make it different from classic Presbyterian denominations like the OPC, PCA, ARP, RPCNA, etc., so I’m not sure if a bad decision by an Iowa court could affect denominations that don’t use forms of polity derived from the Church Order of Dordt. But a bad decision by the Iowa court could create a precedent that could fairly easily be used against the American congregations of the Canadian Reformed Churches, and with more difficulty, against the Protestant Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, Heritage Reformed and Free Reformed.

        There have been serious clergy sexual abuse cases over the years in conservative Reformed denominations, That should not surprise us. Total depravity really is total.

        The question is not whether some ordained ministers will do horrible things, but rather how their churches and denominations will deal with them once discovered.

  4. sean

    If memory serves, a lot of those cases centered around child sexual abuse not consensual, and ended up in out of court settlements paid by a particular diocese, which I guess in this case, if proven, means money coming out of the consistory?

  5. sean

    What does ‘do nothing’ mean in this context as it regards the consistory? Obviously they ‘did something’, they issued a letter, which is where the defamation, I assume, comes in. It seems an odd response, as if the action of sending the letter had already been informed by potential legal recourse; “it was consensual”. If I remember correctly in the RCC, none of the cases were able to be tied all the way back to the Vatican. They all eventually landed in the lap of the relevant diocese and generally found additional guilt or acquittal(conspiratorial) of the relevant bishop or archbishop as well. It would be rather strange if the response of the consistory, upon hearing of consensual sex(adultery) between Eduardo and these women, actually did nothing but issue a letter. Did the consistory NOT discipline and defrock Rev. Eduardo upon admission?

  6. Richard

    As an attorney, I have the opposite view of the liability of the URCNA. From my limited understanding of the denomination (I’m PCA), the liability is pretty tenuous since denoms such as the PCUSA always open themselves up to the charge of negligence if they have extensive oversight of training and reporting over their ministers. If the URCNA is indeed not a “connectional denomination,” it should be able to be easily dismissed from the suit.

    • darrelltoddmaurina

      Richard, I may have failed to be clear. I agree that the URCNA should not be considered to be a connectional denomination, and ideally, the judge will dismiss the URCNA from the lawsuit quickly.

      I believe, given time, that a fair-minded judge will rule that the clear intent of the URCNA founders and of the early synods was to establish a non-connectional form of government.

      My concern is what happens if the judge rules differently..

      The URC does use exactly the same terms — consistory, classis, and synod — which are used by other denominations which are clearly connectional in nature. It is the job of judges to listen to the lawyers in front of them, and a judge could reasonably ask for the URC’s lawyers to provide expert testimony on the form of government used by the URCNA which explains why a URC classis does not have the same type of authority over local churches and ministers possessed by an RCA or CRC classis.

      Fortunately, many of the key framers of the URCNA’s church order are still alive and can testify as to their intent, and even though some are dead, it might still be possible to get a large percentage or even a majority of the elders and ministers present at the early URC synods to sign a letter making clear their intent was to establish a form of denominational church government in which local elders, not the classis or synod, would have the sole right and responsibility to supervise the minister’s doctrine and life.

      Even if that is not possible, there are hundreds of pages of articles in Outlook and Christian Renewal on the issue of URCNA church government back in the 1990s, and I wrote a fair number of them myself covering debates on the issue. I think it is reasonable that even if the URCNA doesn’t immediately get dismissed from the lawsuit, it will be dismissed eventually,.

      The likelihood is low, but this lawsuit is potentially very serious and the threat to the URCNA should not be ignored or minimized if the URCNA, as a denomination, is not dismissed from the case.

    • Richard, what’s the basic legal analysis of rogue employees? If a McDonald’s employee just snaps and commits a crime on the job, is McDonald’s liable?

      • Richard

        As you know, the answer generally is “no,” but a good lawyer doesn’t stop there and will ask questions about whether McDonald’s had proper training programs for their employees, whether McDonald’s had proper supervision over their employees, etc, and in general whether McDonalds’ violated a duty of care to its customers and employees.

      • At “first blush” there would seem to be a first amendment issue insofar as a court whould be dictating how a religious sect must oversee its ministers.

  7. Richard

    Agreed. But, we know courts don’t exactly see eye to eye when it comes to First Amendment issues; neither does this Administration (throwing a bone to culture war types).

  8. darrelltoddmaurina

    The issue of lawsuits among believers is going to come up at some point.

    For whatever it’s worth, my understanding is that Patrick Edouard and his family left the Pella URC membership last year to become members of an OPC congregation in Ada, Michigan, Anne Bandstra and her family left last year to become members of Faith CRC in Pella, and Valerie Bandstra and her family left last year to become members of Third RCA in Pella. That information could be outdated, however.

    The relevant point is that since the two Bandstra families are no longer in the same denomination as Pella URC or Patrick Edouard, they no longer have the option of appealing actions or inactions of the Pella URC or its elders to the URC classis.

    I’m not intending to argue for or against filing a civil lawsuit against a church in a case like this — a wide variety of arguments can be made — but only pointing out that once the key people involved left to join other churches in other denominations, the ecclesiastical courts were no longer a realistic option.

    This whole thing is a sad and horrible mess which quite possibly will get even worse.

  9. Pingback: Church Freedom and Church Subjection to the Court | Presbyterian Blues

  10. sean,0,3114631.story

    In the spirit of how a church SHOULDN’T handle a sexual abuse or harassment case and for the purpose of contrast with the URCNA and the lack of conspiracy and cover up in this case. I Know it’s not parallel in terms of criminal conduct-children vs. consensual adult. But, churches need to take a lesson from the hubris shown.

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