A girl whose suit accuses her adoptive father of abusing her says she will object to a federal magistrate's recommendation that she not be allowed to use conversations her father had with his LDS bishop - and subsequent conversations LDS clergy had among themselves about the man - as evidence in her suit.
U.S. Magistrate Ronald Boyce ruled Monday that conversations between Steven LeRoy Hammock and his bishop as well as conversations his bishop subsequently had about Hammock with other church leaders are privileged information and cannot be used in court.In a 22-page report, Boyce also recommended blocking the disclosure of Hammock's records of excommunication from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Boyce's recommendation goes to Judge David Sam, who is hearing the case. If an objection to that recommendation is not filed within 10 days, it becomes a court order. However the girl's attorney, Ross C. Anderson, said, "We are absolutely going to object to it."
Michelle Scott, Hammock's adopted daughter, has filed a $2.5 million suit against Hammock, accusing him of sexually and physically abusing her from the time she was 5 years old until she left home at 15. She seeks $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages, Anderson said.
Scott sought to use Hammock's excommunication rec-ords and conversations Hammock had with church leaders as well as discussions leaders had among themselves during an LDS disciplinary proceeding in her suit against her father.
In a deposition reviewed by Boyce, Hammock testified that he was not confessing, seeking forgiveness or expressing remorse when he discussed certain problems with his bishop on two occasions.
However, Boyce noted in his report that the modern trend in defining privileged communication with clergy goes beyond just confessions to include general religious counseling.
Boyce said the conversations between Hammock and his bishop, while not confessional or penitent, centered around Hammock's desire for religious guidance.
Boyce also said that the LDS Church contends that when church leaders share information about church members, that sharing falls under the protection of clergy privilege. So Boyce also blocked testimony about what the bishop related to Hammock's stake president about what Hammock had told him.
Anderson objected to that reasoning. "To me, it looks like there is a substitution of LDS Church guidelines for law. I don't think the LDS Church - any more than any fraternal organization who likes to hold things in the law - can dictate what is going to be confidential and what isn't under the law."
Anderson argued that because Hammock was not present when church leaders later met to discipline him, the leaders' discussions about him could not be privileged. However, Boyce concluded that early Utah statutes suggest religious disciplinary action falls within the realm of privileged communication.
The LDS Church joined Hammock in his attempts to block Anderson's use of church records and discussion with religious leaders.
Hammock pleaded guilty to two counts of forcible sexual abuse of a child in 1983, Anderson said. But now that Scott has sued her father, he denies abusing her.
Testimony about conversations with church leaders and the excommunication records would have strengthened Scott's case, Anderson said. But he believes Scott has a strong case without church-related testimony and will proceed with the suit.