A lawsuit filed by a woman against her former fiance poses an exception to a Utah law that keeps the discussions between clergy and their penitent confidential, an attorney said.
After RaNay Stout Jackson was jilted hours before her 1993 wedding, she turned to her bishop for counseling. She then sued her former fiance, Scott William Brown, for intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming $1 million in actual and punitive damages.Now, Brown wants to know just what the disappointed bride told Gary Riddle, her former bishop in the Ridgecrest Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But Jackson and the LDS Church have asked 3rd District Judge Glenn Iwasaki to quash the defense subpoena served on the bishop, citing Jackson's penitent-clergy privilege to keep her discussions confidential.
Under Utah law, a bishop cannot be compelled to testify about a confession, notes church attorney Oscar W. McConkie. And he points to rulings by a federal magistrate and the Utah Supreme Court that "nonconfessional" and "nonpenitential" communications also remain privileged.
But Brown's attorney, Richard G. Hackwell, argues his case has a crucial difference.
In those rulings, the person claiming protection was a defendant. Now, Jackson herself is making an issue of her emotional distress, for which she sought counseling from her bishop, Hackwell said.
Communications with doctors and therapists are generally privileged, but Utahns who file lawsuits claiming emotional or physical damages must routinely waive that confidentiality, Hackwell said.
Jackson must do the same, even though she chose to get her counseling from a bishop rather than a therapist, he argues.
"One cannot haul a defendant into court and then claim a privilege to deny him access to the facts which would support or derogate the claim against him," Hackwell wrote to the judge.
Typically, a defendant can cross-examine a counselor to ascertain the severity of any distress and probe other possible causes, Hack-well said.
In an April deposition, Jackson said she sought help only from her bishop and never saw a medical doctor or psychologist.
But Jackson's attorney, Gregory Hadley, argues Riddle was acting not as a psychiatrist or psychologist, "but in his capacity as a bishop providing spiritual counseling, guidance and advice to . . . a member of his ward."
Hadley also objects that the subpoena was served too late, after a deadline set by the judge.
Jackson claims Brown proposed to her - despite the fact he was already married.