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Trial set for Mormon bishop accused of failing to report abuse

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 2012 1:54 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 Duchesne ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will stand trial June 1, 2012, on charges of witness tampering, a third-degree felony; and failure to report abuse, a class B misdemeanor.

Geoff Liesik, Deseret News

DUCHESNE — A one-day jury trial has been scheduled for an LDS Church bishop accused of telling a teenage girl not to seek a protective order and failing to report the girl's disclosure that she had been sexually abused by a relative.

Bishop Gordon Moon is charged in 8th District Court with witness tampering, a third-degree felony, and failure to report abuse, a class B misdemeanor. Moon was arraigned on the charges Thursday, entering not guilty pleas to both counts.

His trial is set for June 1.

But Moon's attorney, David Leavitt, said Thursday that he intends to challenge the constitutionality of the witness tampering charge prior to trial.

"Charging an LDS bishop for counsel that he may or may not have given in an interview, in an attempt to counsel a member, is something that the Constitution of the United States should forbid," Leavitt told the Deseret News.

Moon, 43, is accused of failing to notify police about a 17-year-old girl's disclosure that she had been sexually abused by a teenage relative. The bishop also told the girl not to seek a protective order against the teenage boy and the boy's mother when the girl came to him for counsel, according to Duchesne County prosecutors.

The girl's father, a member of Moon's congregation, told investigators he asked the bishop to meet with his daughter in his ecclesiastical role because she had disclosed an incident of sexual abuse, court records state. The disclosure was causing conflict between family members, the man told investigators.

During her interview with a sheriff's investigator, the girl said she told the bishop she wanted to obtain a protective order against her abuser and his mother so she wouldn't be "terrorized," according to the interview transcript. The teen boy was no longer living in the community, however, and Moon questioned whether a protective order was necessary, the girl said.

"And then he said that I need to think about what (the boy) is going through, and I don't need to start telling the cops or anything because he's already going to have to go through a bunch of repentance and all that stuff," the girl told the investigator.

Leavitt, during an earlier hearing, argued that the girl never clearly told Moon she had been sexually abused. She only told the bishop that "something had happened" between herself and the boy, Leavitt said.

He also pointed out that his client was at least the sixth person to know about the abuse before police were contacted, but is the only person charged with a crime.

Prosecutor Grant Charles said Moon is charged because he's "the only one who did something to try to prevent" the girl from going to the authorities. The other people who knew of the abuse were working with the girl, encouraging her to contact detectives, Charles said.

On Thursday, Leavitt told Judge Lyle Anderson that — in addition to challenging the witness tampering charge — he intends to challenge the failure to report charge on the basis that it is "overly broad," and is still considering whether to file a motion arguing that Moon is the victim of selective prosecution.

"I'm not going to delude myself that I'll be the last one to rule on those issues," the judge replied, adding that he expects the Utah Supreme Court "will probably be the last word on this."

The girl's abuse allegations were turned over to authorities in Kane County, where the alleged assault is said to have occurred. The teenage boy was referred to 6th District Juvenile Court for unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old as a result of the investigation. The charge would be a second-degree felony, if the teen were an adult.

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."

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.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides training for its lay clergy on how to handle disclosures of abuse, said LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter. It also maintains a hotline that clergy members can call for legal advice. 

Moon continues to serve as an LDS bishop, and as vice president of the Duchesne County School Board. Because of his position in the community, the judge doubled the size of the jury pool for Moon's trial.

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

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