McKenna Denson given more time in her lawsuit against LDS Church over sexual misconduct by mission president

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) McKenna Denson, the plaintiff in a lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smiles as she leaves an April 2018 news conference with her then-attorney Craig Vernon, after a news conference where Denson addressed the lawsuit that alleges a former Missionary Training Center president raped her, and the church put him in that powerful role after receiving reports of sexual misconduct. Densonvhas a court hearing Monday in Salt Lake City on the status of her suit.

A federal judge gave McKenna Denson more time Monday to find attorneys to represent her in her lawsuit against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints alleging that the then-president of the Missionary Training Center raped her.

At a hearing in Salt Lake City, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead said he would schedule another hearing in the suit to take place in about six more weeks. Denson is supposed to use that time to get lawyers.

Denson told Pead three firms were interested in the case. The best candidates are at a law firm in San Diego, she said.

“There aren’t that many firms that specialize in this kind of a case,” Denson told Pead over the telephone from her home in Pueblo, Colo., “so I have to be a little bit careful in who I ask to represent me.”

Denson’s previous lawyers quit at the end of May.

In her lawsuit, Denson accused Joseph L. Bishop, who lives in the Phoenix area, of raping her in 1984 at Provo’s MTC, where he oversaw the faith’s flagship Missionary Training Center.

Bishop has denied raping Denson, but in a recorded police interview obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, he recalled going into a small storage room with her and asking her to expose herself because she had recently had a breast augmentation.

“I wanted to see her breasts," Bishop said, “how the operation [went], etc."

He has also said he touched another female missionary inappropriately during a back rub. He told police detectives from church-owned Brigham Young University that he immediately reported his behavior to his ecclesiastical lay leaders and was allowed to keep his position at the MTC.

Bishop last year was dismissed as a defendant, along with part of the case against the church. A fraud claim alleging a cover-up remains pending against the Utah-based faith.

Denson’s previous attorneys did not state a reason publicly for their withdrawal. Before agreeing to schedule a new hearing, Pead asked Denson whether she wanted new lawyers or planned to represent herself.

“I would not go to traffic court without an attorney, Your Honor," Denson said, "so I would prefer more time, yes.”

She said some other law firms had expressed interest but were deterred by the case’s schedule. The sides are supposed to finish trading documents in January, and file motions to dismiss or proceed in February. A trial is scheduled for July.

Denson also told Pead some potential lawyers have been “intimidated by the fact it is the Mormon church.”

Pead said he was open to postponing all those dates, given Denson’s problems with attorneys. Defense lawyers David Jordan and Wesley Harward, representing the church, said they would have no objection to postponements.

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