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Judge weighing whether Mormon bishop should stand trial for failure to report abuse

Published: Thursday, Dec. 22 2011 10:01 p.m. MST

Gordon Moon, right, listens to his defense attorney, David Leavitt, speak during a preliminary hearing Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011, in 8th District Court. Moon, the bishop of a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in Duchesne, is charged with charged with witness tampering, a third-degree felony; and failure to report abuse, a class B misdemeanor.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

DUCHESNE — A judge is considering whether an LDS Church bishop should stand trial for charges of witness tampering and failure to report abuse.

Gordon Lamont Moon, 43, is accused of telling a 16-year-old girl not to contact authorities in late July after she met with him in his capacity as her bishop and told him she'd been sexually abused.

But during a preliminary hearing Thursday in 8th District Court, defense attorney David Leavitt noted that at least six people knew about the abuse before Moon was ever told about it. None of those people have been charged with a crime, Leavitt said.

"That's because Bishop Moon is a bishop, isn't it?" Leavitt asked Duchesne County Sheriff's Lt. Travis Tucker during cross examination.

"I understand what you're saying," Tucker replied. "I haven't thought of it that way."

The lieutenant later conceded that it is his personal belief that, like law enforcement officers, members clergy should be "held to a higher standard."

Tucker called Moon shortly after the teenage girl reported the abuse to the sheriff's office. During the recorded conversation, Moon told the investigator he believed "in Utah, even in the most severe cases (of abuse), a bishop has no obligation to report."

Actually, Utah law requires anyone who “has reason to believe that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect, or who observes a child being subjected to conditions or circumstances which would reasonably result in abuse or neglect” to report that information immediately to the nearest law enforcement officer or to the state Division of Child and Family Services, the statute states.

Members of the clergy are exempt from the reporting requirement only if they learn about abuse through a confession from the abuser, unless that person grants them consent to disclose the information.

Tucker said that after his initial conversation with Moon, the bishop called him back a short time later and asked, "Is this a case I'm supposed to report?"

"I informed him he was (required to report it)," the lieutenant said.

Duchesne County prosecutor Grant Charles told Judge Lyle Anderson that Moon is currently the only person facing charges in the case because he's "the only one who did something to try to prevent" the girl from going to the authorities.

During an interview with Tucker, the girl said Moon told her she didn't need to contact police, should consider what her abuser was going through and also consider the potential harm her allegations could cause. She also said the bishop told her she should re-evaluate the way she dresses.

The girl and her mother reported the abuse to a Duchesne County sheriff's detective one day after the meeting with Moon. Leavitt pointed out in court that the meeting with the detective was scheduled the same day the girl met with her bishop.

"Police knew all about this before Bishop Moon did," he said.

But Charles said the detective only made the appointment, and did not know what the nature of the complaint would be.

The girl's abuse allegations were turned over to authorities in Kane County, where the alleged assault is said to have occurred. A teenage boy was referred to 6th District Juvenile Court for one allegation of unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old as a result of the investigation.

Judge Anderson — after listening to nearly four hours of testimony and argument — questioned whether Moon "willfully" failed to report the abuse or was simply ignorant about his responsibility to report it.

"You don't have any evidence that he knew he had a duty to report," Anderson told Charles. 

"It's clear he has a duty to report and didn't report," the judge added later. "I'm unsure whether the state has to show he knew he had a duty to report."

Anderson said he will decide whether Moon should stand trial on the charges and issue a written decision early next year. Moon continues to serve as a bishop and as vice president of the Duchesne County School Board. 

E-mail: gliesik@desnews.com Twitter: GeoffLiesik

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