Missouri Conference ordered to pay $6 million to church musician
May 5, 2005
By Fred Koenig*
Mo. (UMNS)—The United Methodist Missouri Annual (regional) Conference
has been ordered to pay $6 million in damages to a former local church
civil court jury found in favor of Teresa and Sid Norris of
Springfield, Mo., awarding them $2 million in compensatory damages on
April 29 and $4 million in punitive damages on May 4. The couple sued
the Missouri Conference for intentional failure to supervise and act on
complaints against a pastor more than six years ago.
Norris — music director of Campbell United Methodist Church from Sept
1, 1997, to April 26, 1998 — and her husband filed the lawsuit in Greene
County Circuit Court in 2002, contending the conference did not
appropriately respond to informal complaints that were filed against the
Rev. David Finestead, and that this alleged failure to respond put
Norris in danger. Norris alleged that Finestead, then pastor of the
church, raped her on March 25, 1998, in her office at the church.
are disappointed by the verdict and will begin to immediately pursue
what our options may be, including the possibility of appeal," said the
Rev. Steve Cox, director of connectional ministries for the Missouri
Conference. "Six million dollars is more money than we have in terms of
assets, and this will have a tremendous impact on the conference," he
said. Conference leaders will meet May 6 to discuss financial and legal
options for future operations, he said.
have been on Missouri soil for 200 years, and we are confident we will
be here for another 200," Cox said. "We are particularly disappointed
that ministries will have to be reduced to pay the damages."
The defense in the
April 18-May 4 trial argued that the complaints before the alleged rape
described sexual harassment and inappropriate language, and that the
conference responded by following disciplinary protocol, including
getting a signed resolution agreed upon by those bringing formal
The Rev. Steve Cox
defense also argued that the bishop and district superintendent could
not have known that physical danger or assault was likely. The
attorneys also told jurors that no police report was filed, the rape was
not reported for six weeks, no forensic evidence was found to support
the allegations, and that Finestead denied the allegations and provided
an alibi witness.
defense attorneys contended that although there were complaints
received about Finestead before the alleged rape, the complaints were
not of a nature for leaders to suspect Finestead would commit a violent
act or that anyone was in danger.
Mrs. Norris accused Finestead of rape, the conference followed its
standard procedure, and then Missouri Area Bishop Ann Sherer called for
an investigation. Finestead was suspended while the investigation
committee, consisting of clergy with lay observers, reviewed the
complaint and referred the case to a church trial.
"Sexual misconduct is not tolerated in the United Methodist Church and in addition to the policy in the United Methodist Book of Discipline, the Missouri Conference (had) strict procedures for what to do," Cox said.
the trial began, Finestead withdrew his clergy credentials from the
United Methodist Church and was ordained by another denomination. Since
he was no longer an ordained elder in the denomination, the church trial
never took place.
Finestead was not
criminally charged. A separate civil lawsuit filed against him in 1999
is still pending. Finestead now resides in Louisburg, Kan., and serves
the First Baptist Church there. According to his Web site, he is in the
hospital being treated for cancer.
Bishop Ann B. Sherer
testified in the civil trial, as did the Rev. Elroy Hines, who was the
bishop’s assistant at the time, the Rev. Jim Ireland, then district
superintendent, and members of Campbell United Methodist Church.
jury was instructed that the case was based on six elements, and jurors
would need to believe that all six elements were true to return a
verdict for the plaintiff. The elements were:
Sherer and Ireland were Finestead’s supervisors;
they were certain or substantially certain that Finestead would cause harm;
they disregarded this known harm;
this harm caused damage to Norris;
the damage was within the scope of the known risk; and
the damage occurred on the property the defendant owns or occupies.
award punitive damages, the jury had to find the annual conference
guilty of "reckless indifference." Nine or more jury members had to
agree to return a verdict on the damages and the punitive damages. The
decision was unanimous.
Because the lawsuit was a civil case, the proof required was less than for a criminal case.
probably heard (that) in a criminal case, you must be convinced of
something beyond a reasonable doubt," Dan Craig, attorney for the
Norrises, said in closing arguments.
"This is a civil case, and the burden is that these things are more likely to be true than not true," he said.
*Koenig is the editor of the Missouri Review, the newspaper of the Missouri Annual Conference.
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.