Defense attorneys for the pastor of the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center and for a former pastor of a satelite churchsay they can't get a fair trial in a Pierce County civil suit because of massive pretrial publicity in the region.
Yesterday, they asked Pierce County Superior Court Judge D. Gary Steiner to move the trial, which involves allegations of assault and malpractice by church staff members, to Eastern Washington.
They also requested the trial be postponed by as much as six to eight months.
On another front, Daniel Hannula, the plaintiff's attorney, asked the court to open Community Chapel Pastor Donald Barnett's sealed pretrial deposition about his sexual activities with female members of the congregation. The judge delayed decisions on all requests until noon Monday.
The trial involves a civil lawsuit brought by former chapel member Carol Gabrielson against Barnett and Jack McDonald, the former pastor of Community Chapel's Tacoma satellite. Gabrielson claims McDonald manipulated her into having sex with him.
In court papers, McDonald denies many of Gabrielson's allegations.
The suit also claims Barnett's teachings encouraged married church members to form intimate attachments with others and that he should have known these would result in seductions and marital breakups.
Community Chapel attorneys yesterday presented a stack of newspaper articles from Seattle and Tacoma newspapers to show the amount of coverage on the controversies of the Burien-based church and Barnett over the last four years.
An article that ran in the Seattle Post-IntelligencerWednesday was especially damaging to a fair trial, the defendants' attorneys said.
The story quoted portions of an attorney's confidential letter, a copy of which had been sent to Barnett through the U.S. mail, according to court documents.
"It's one thing to have articles in the paper concerning the church . . . covering general questions regarding any particular religion that's exercised in this country,'' said Rodney Hollenbeck, Barnett's attorney."But it's quite something else to have private confidential correspondence between an attorney and his client stolen through mail theft and then published in the paper for all to see.''
Tim Donaldson, another attorney for Barnett, said afterward: "We have no idea who took it and we have no idea how it got out. All we do know is that it disappeared after going out to our client.''
The confidential letter, written to the CNA Insurance Co. by Hollenbeck, with a copy going to Barnett, supposedly relayed the pastor's desire to settle the lawsuit out of court.
Hollenbeck said it also contained the attorney's evaluations on matters of evidence, liability and motions before the court.
When asked where the letter came from, J.D. Alexander, executive editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, said: "Don't ask.''
"The P-I had no knowledge of it being stolen.,'' Alexander said.
The paper consulted with attorneys before publishing excerpts from the letter, said Alexander, because ". . . we have a very specific practice of pre-publication review of all sensitive stories. I think all journalistic operations do that and so do we.''
The civil suit was scheduled for trial April 18, pending the judge's rulings Monday. Barnett is expected to ask next week to be dismissed as a defendant.