The Ohio Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday morning regarding a young girl who was sexually assaulted by her Delaware County pastor in 2008, and the damage caps that prevent her from collecting millions in damages.
The case is an appeal filed by a girl who was sexually assaulted in 2008 by Brian Lester Williams, a former pastor at Grace Brethren Church of Delaware and Sunbury Grace Brethren Church.
Court documents indicate that Williams, while working at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church, sexually assaulted a 15-year-old girl in March 2008 and was sentenced to eight years in prison by Delaware County Common Pleas Judge Duncan Whitney after pleading guilty to two charges of sexual battery in June 2008.
The victim in the case filed a civil suit against Delaware Grace Brethren in 2013 and, after a jury found the church was negligent, she was awarded $3.5 million in damages. However, the Ohio Association of Justice reports that she was only awarded $350,000 because of damage caps.
Attorneys for the woman and her father say a state law that limits non-economic damages to $350,000 violates the constitutional rights of underage victims of sexual assault.
The OAJ reports that because of the victim’s young age and her lack of a career, her economic worth was declared negligible.
Attorneys for both the victim and Grace Brethren discussed these caps Tuesday with Ohio Supreme Court justices.
John Fitch, the attorney for the victim, said the caps are imposed unless a victim suffers lasting physical or financial harm but argued his client should be entitled to more money because of the lasting psychological harm and effect the crime has had on her life.
Justice Terrence O’Donnell offered that the topic would be more appropriate if it were addressed to the General Assembly so that lawmakers can make a legislative change, rather than have the Ohio Supreme Court legislate from the bench.
Fitch also argued that because the crime included two separate sexual assaults, his client should be entitled to collect two amounts of $350,000. Grace Brethren’s attorney, William Curley, said the crimes are essentially one instance since they occurred one right after the other.
The Supreme Court heard both arguments Tuesday and said they would take the matter under advisement.
Williams is currently serving his time at Chillicothe Correctional Institution and is expected to be released on July 13, 2016.
The Ohio Association of Justice is the statewide bar association of trial attorneys.
Grace Brethren Church of Delaware — where Williams worked as a youth pastor until 2004 before joining the Sunbury church — was affiliated with the Sunbury church briefly, but was not affiliated with it at the time of the crime, according to Delaware Grace Brethren senior pastor Gary Underwood. The Sunbury church ceased operations after the crime.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG. Some information in this story was provided by Ohio Association of Justice and the Associated Press.