Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
DUCHESNE — A judge dismissed all charges Thursday against an LDS 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 teenage relative.
Bishop Gordon Moon was charged in 8th District Court last August with witness tampering, a third-degree felony, and failure to report abuse, a class B misdemeanor.
On Thursday, Judge Lyle Anderson dismissed those charges in the middle of a hearing at the request of Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote. The prosecutor's request came after Moon testified under oath that he should have handled his interview with the girl differently and should have contacted a legal hotline operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The decision to dismiss surprised Moon and his attorney.
"In 20 years of practicing law, I've never seen it operate like this," defense attorney David Leavitt said after court.
"Bishop Moon has maintained all along that he broke no law and that he's innocent," Leavitt added. "Today we're grateful the state finally agreed with us."
Moon has never denied that he should have "been more tactful" during the interview or that he should have contacted the church's legal hotline, his attorney said. "That never seemed to satisfy the state before, but today, for whatever reason, they decided to dismiss the charges."
Moon, 43, was 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.
In past hearings, Leavitt 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, the defense attorney said.
He also pointed out that his client was at least the sixth person to know about the abuse before police were contacted, but he was the only person charged with a crime.
Prosecutors said Moon was charged because he was "the only one who did something to try to prevent" the girl from going to the authorities.
"If we didn't have enough evidence to prosecute, I never would have filed the case to begin with," Foote said Thursday.
The decision to dismiss the charges was based on what Foote characterized as Moon's "admission in a public forum" that he'd mishandled the girl's disclosure of abuse. That was the most important thing to the girl and her family, he said.
"We didn't dismiss the charges because he didn't do anything wrong. We dismissed the charges because he accepted responsibility for what he did wrong," Foote said. "That's why the charges went away."
The prosecutor noted that since he was charged, Moon — who continues to serve as a bishop — has contacted law enforcement to report allegations of abuse brought forward by members of his congregation.
"Based upon his performance now, as well as his willingness to accept responsibility for what he did in the past, we believed it was a good point to end this prosecution," Foote said.
The girl's allegations were turned over to authorities in Kane County, where the assault occurred. The teenage boy was charged in juvenile court with unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old and entered an admission to the allegation.
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 police 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 LDS Church provides training for its lay clergy on how to handle disclosures of abuse, said church spokesman Scott Trotter. It also maintains a hotline that clergy members can call for legal advice.
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