Weil, Quaranta, McGovern attorneys win $12.5M award for abuse victim

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Ronald Weil and Mary Olszewska
Ronald Weil and Mary Olszewska

Case: C.E., a minor, by and through his natural guardian S.E. v. Douglas Wayne Myers et al.

Description: Sexual assault

Filing date: June 29, 2007

Trial dates: May 7-17, 2012; Jan. 13-18, 2014

Court: Lake Circuit Court

Judge: Richard Singletary

Verdict: $12.5 million

Plaintiffs attorneys: Ronald Weil and Mary Olszewska, Weil, Quaranta, McGovern, Miami

Defense attorney: E.T. Fernandez, Fernandez Trial Lawyers, Jacksonville

Details: The Rev. Douglas Wayne Myers was hired in 2005 by the Florida Baptist Convention Inc., a regional office of the Southern Baptist Convention, to start churches in Florida after being run out of Maryland and Alabama by congregations for preying on boys.

The victim, who is identified by the initials C.E. in the lawsuit, was an 11-year-old without a father figure whose family was looking for a male mentor for him. The victim expressed an interest in pursuing a career in the church as a missionary.

C.E. realized he was a victim of abuse after watching a episode of "America's Most Wanted" in February 2006. C.E.'s mother and grandmother notified the Lake County Sheriff's Office.

Myers pleaded guilty to lewd and lascivious battery in 2007 and was sentenced to seven years in prison. State records show Myers was released and is listed as a sex offender living in Prince Frederick, Md.

Plaintiffs case: Myers immediately started "grooming" the boy for sexual predation, Weil and Olszewska said.

C.E. met Myers at the Bay Street Baptist Church, a 1,000-member congregation in Eustis. The boy participated in church activities and helped Myers establish a new congregation, Triangle Community Church in Eustis.

Myers often picked up C.E. at home to escort C.E. to church functions and volunteer work at Triangle, starting six months of unabated abuse.

"He told him these were natural acts between a father and son," Weil said. "The gruesome fact is that the pedophile put a pillow over his head so the victim couldn't see what he was doing."

The civil suit against Myers' former employer alleged sexual assault, battery, intentional affliction of emotional distress, negligent hiring, negligent supervision and detention.

The victim is now a college student in his 20s living in Tavares.

Singletary bifurcated the trial, splitting it into liability and damages phases. In May 2012, a jury found the Florida Baptist Convention was liable for hiring Myers and putting C.E. in danger.

The victim's attorneys told the jury that the Florida Baptist Convention should have known through reasonable diligence that Myers was not suitable to mentor, counsel or minister young children. Weil said the organization did only a cursory background check on Myers.

"He submitted a resume which had a listing of the most two recent churches he worked at in the last two or three years and nobody called," Weil said. "One phone call would have stopped this guy in his tracks."

The attorneys told the jury during the damages phase that C.E. is deeply scarred from the abuse. He remains in psychotherapy to deal with suicide ideation and night terrors. Two doctors testified C.E. suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Weil said the victim has lost his faith because of the abuse.

Weil was lead attorney and presented most of the evidence at trial. Olszewska, Weil's daughter-in-law, did much of the trial preparation work with witnesses, including the victim who testified.

"They belittled him," Olszewska said. "They put up Facebook. They talked about how he went on vacation to Mexico."

Defense case: Fernandez did not return a phone call or email for comment.

Weil said the Florida Baptist Convention argued its churches are a loose confederation and it had no control over them. Weil said the case was the first to reject that contention.

The defense in the damages phrase maintained C.E. was basically unharmed from the abuse, Olszewska said. It pointed to his Facebook profile that showed him smiling.

Verdict: The jury awarded $2.5 million in damages against the church organization for harm to the plaintiff in the past and another $10 million for future pain and suffering. There were no punitive damages.

Comments: "The Florida Baptist Convention and the Southern Baptist Convention have been late to acknowledging their responsibility in addressing problem ministers," Weil said.

Post-verdict: Weil said other victims of Myers have come forward, including a youth minister's son in Maryland.

The defense filed a motion Tuesday to overturn the verdict on a number of grounds.

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