Judge drops charges against Mormon bishop in belated report on sex abuse
Felony and misdemeanor charges filed against an eastern Utah Mormon bishop accused of failing to report a teenage girl's sexual abuse and urging her not to seek a protective order against the alleged offender have been dismissed by an 8th District Court judge.
Gordon Lamont Moon, 43, had been charged in August 2011 with third-degree felony witness tampering and class B misdemeanor failure to report child abuse.
However, on Thursday, Judge Lyle Anderson granted Duchesne County Attorney Stephen Foote's surprise motion to dismiss the charges after Moon testified in court that he had erred in how he had handled the now-17-year-old girl's revelations during a confidential conversation in July 2011.
In comments reportedly made after the hearing, Foote said the prosecution felt justice had been done by Moon's admission. However, Moon's defense attorney, David O. Leavitt, on Friday blasted that explanation as disingenuous at best.
"This was a complete surprise to us," Leavitt said. "But this whole case has been a complete surprise in that it was one that should never have been prosecuted to begin with. ... For the state to say, in effect, that all they wanted was an apology, or an admission that he could have handled the interview [with the girl] better? They had that from the beginning, and still the state had been absolutely unwilling to dismiss the charges. They insisted that Bishop Moon plead guilty."
Instead, Moon pleaded not guilty, and in April Leavitt filed motions to dismiss the charges on constitutional grounds. Moon had been ordered to stand trial June 1.
Court documents supporting the charges stated that the girl had confided to the bishop that a teenage relative had sexually abused her. The girl met with Moon at the request of her father, prosecutors said.
"[Moon] said that I need to think about what [the teen boy] is going through, and I don't need to start telling the cops or anything because he's already going to have to go through a bunch of repentance and all that stuff," the girl later told police, according to court documents.
The girl also told police that Moon "told me that he didn't think it was a good idea [to talk to police] until he talked to [the boy and his parents]."
But Leavitt said prosecutors knew that the father had asked Moon to listen to the girl's story because he was unsure she was telling the truth.
"The parents [of the girl] were divorced and the daughter claimed to have been abused by a [male] step-sibling," Leavitt said. "The father didn't know who to believe, so he went to his bishop. It was a matter of 'Can you hear my daughter's story and tell me who's telling the truth?' "
Leavitt said that not only had the parents reported the incident to police 12 hours prior to her meeting with Moon, but the bishop was "the seventh person to know that something allegedly happened; the police knew about it before Bishop Moon even talked to the girl."
Leavitt maintains that it was the girl's mother who had pushed her to seek a protective order against the boy, even though the youth had moved away from the area.
Leavitt said he will be discussing with Moon the possibility of filing a civil suit against Duchesne County over its handling of the case. Moon, whose telephone is not listed, could not be reached for comment.
Foote, meanwhile, was out of his office Friday and did not return a message seeking further explanation for his decision to dismiss the charges.