An Arizona prosecutor, who says a lawyer for the LDS Church told a bishop he didn’t need to inform police that a child was being sexually abused, has filed a bar complaint against that attorney and his law firm.
An indictment against the child’s parents suggests the abuse went on for a decade. The Mormon bishop in Kingman may face a criminal charge, too, for not notifying police, though Arizona law doesn’t always require clergy to report abuse and, documents say, the bishop encouraged the now-teenager to speak to law enforcement.
Meanwhile, both a prosecutor and a victims’ advocate in northwest Arizona are expressing concern about the advice the LDS Church’s law firm, Salt Lake City-based Kirton McConkie, is giving to the faith’s lay leaders.
“Religion was used against this young person for years,” said James Schoppmann, chief deputy of the Mohave County attorney’s office. “What I mean by that is, [the teen] believed people knew and were doing something about it.”
Schoppmann sent a letter dated May 18 to the State Bar of Arizona, which regulates attorneys there, complaining that Kirton McConkie lawyer Joseph Osmond had given legal advice in the Grand Canyon State even though he has no license to practice there.
Schoppmann’s complaint says “perhaps others” from Kirton McConkie “are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law” in Arizona.
The complaint also discusses Lance Wickman, now an emeritus LDS general authority and the church’s general counsel. Schoppmann accuses Wickman, who is a licensed attorney in Utah but not Arizona, of knowing about Osmond and others practicing in the Grand Canyon State without a license.
“Given this unauthorized and incompetent practice by Osmond et al.,” Schoppmann wrote, “I believe there are other Arizona child abuse victims at risk of continued child abuse, including sex abuse.”
Bill Maledon, an attorney at the Phoenix firm of Osborn Maledon, issued a statement Thursday on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Kirton McConkie.
“Simply put, the bar complaint filed by Mr. Schoppmann is inaccurate, misleading, and baseless nonsense,” the statement said. “His contention that Mr. Osmond and Elder Wickman have engaged in the unauthorized practice of law in Arizona is, in our view, totally unfounded and legally incorrect.”
In bold type, Maledon’s statement also said: “Elder Wickman was not involved in this matter in any capacity.”
Maledon also pointed out that an exhibit in the bar complaint makes clear the bishop encouraged the victim to report any abuse to the police.
“Though requirements for reporting may vary by location, the church’s policy is to fully comply with all applicable reporting laws,” Maledon said, “and even encourages reporting where it may not be required.”
Schoppmann also copied the bars in Utah and California, where the Arizona prosecutor believes Osmond gave legal advice to a Mormon bishop, on his complaint.
‘Communication or a confession’
The Arizona bar complaint contains slides from a presentation Osmond and another attorney, also believed to be from Kirton McConkie, gave to victims’ rights advocates May 10 in Prescott.
The slides say clergy in Arizona are required to report child abuse to police or child welfare agents unless they discover the abuse through, according to the statute, “confidential communication or a confession.”
The slides, most of them sporting the Kirton McConkie logo, say an LDS bishop or stake (regional) president should urge members to report abuse. Another slide had a U.S. map where states are color-coded by whether their laws require clergy to report child abuse.
Utah does not require clergy to report child abuse if the information comes in a confession from the perpetrator. However, the Utah statute requires clergy to report if the information comes from any other source.
What was not optional, according to the slides, was reporting a suspected offender to LDS leaders.
“A disciplinary council must be held,” reads one slide, “when evidence suggests that a member may have committed child abuse or certain other transgressions.”
Such church councils can impose penalties — up to excommunication — on members.
Suzanne Clarke, executive director of Kingman Aid to Abused People, was one of the victims’ advocates who attended Osmond’s presentation.
“You just got that impression that whatever they said as attorneys to bishops or clergy,” Clarke said in a recent interview, “was above the law, like confession was above the law, and they did not need to report child abuse.”
She wants Mormon bishops and others holding positions within the church to report child abuse every time. Clarke said people, especially kids, in religious households report problems to their clergy because they are familiar authority figures.
“They don’t know who else to talk to about it,” Clarke said.
Clarke and Schoppmann said this week they believe the abuse of this teen could have ended sooner had someone at one of two LDS wards made a report to police.
Request for confidentiality
A Mohave County grand jury in January indicted one of the teen’s parents on four felony counts related to sexual abuse. The indictment alleges the abuse began in 2006 and continued through April 2016.
In April, another grand jury there indicted the second parent on one felony count of child abuse and two felony counts of failure to report child abuse. The Salt Lake Tribune generally does not identify victims of sex abuse and sometimes withholds the names of suspects to avoid indirectly identifying victims.
Documents don’t make clear the date on which any LDS Church authority learned of the abuse. Schoppmann said the teen and the family have long lived in Mohave County but used to attend a Mormon ward just across the state line in California.
Exhibits in the bar complaint say that when the teen’s family moved into a new ward in Kingman, Osmond contacted the bishop there, Randall Gremlich.
Osmond informed Gremlich there was a legal issue with the teen’s family, the exhibit says.
Gremlich later told staffers from the Mohave County attorney’s office that Osmond, a former Utah Highway Patrol trooper, instructed Gremlich to call him if anyone had any questions about the issues with the teen. Gremlich also said Osmond sent him the text of two letters written on LDS Church letterhead.
One letter encouraged the teenager to tell a professional counselor or law enforcement what happened.
“In fact, I would be happy to make a report to the authorities if you direct me to do so,” Gremlich wrote. “I am bound, however, by church doctrine and by the law of the land to honor your request for confidentiality.”
Schoppmann’s bar complaint asserts there was a second letter, which the teen and the mother signed at Osmond’s request, that affirmed neither the mother or child wanted Gremlich to report the matter to law enforcement.
In an interview, Schoppmann said he does not have a copy of that letter but would like it. He regards any such letter as an effort to shield the church from liability rather than report sex abuse.
“I spoke to my counterparts across the state,” Schoppmann said. “They were as shocked as I was. They never even heard of this practice of having children waive a clergy’s duty to report or giving the child a letter that the clergy would be happy to report.”
Maledon, in his written statement to The Tribune, denied the victim was asked to sign such a letter.
“The bishop has denied this and no such alleged letters have been produced by Mr. Schoppmann or anyone else,” Maledon said.
The Mohave County attorney’s office has asked prosecutors in other Arizona counties to prosecute the abuse cases and consider charges against Gremlich. Schoppmann can’t do so, because he is a witness.
Schoppmann holds a teaching position in his Mormon stake. He said he was serving in that capacity one day when the teen told him about the abuse. Schoppmann said he began calling police detectives he knew.
The teen also told Schoppmann LDS leaders knew of the abuse and were addressing it. The prosecutor said he didn’t understand at the time how Mormon clergy could know about the abuse and yet police be unaware of it.
Schoppmann wants LDS leaders to report child abuse every time. He also wants the church to stop sending attorneys to states in which they have no law licenses and to cease giving advice on those states’ laws.
As for Gremlich, a review of whether he learned of any child abuse from “confidential communication or a confession,” which would protect him from criminal charges, has been sent to the Maricopa County attorney’s office. Staffers there did not return messages explaining the status of the review.
Schoppmann knows Gremlich and believes Gremlich received bad legal advice.
“He’s a good guy,” Schoppmann said. “He’s between a rock and a hard place. I think he was doing what he thought was right, although, at some point, he should have questioned the logic of the two letters used with this child.”
Spokespeople for the bars in Utah and California said complaints are confidential, and they declined to confirm whether they had received one regarding Osmond. A representative of the Arizona bar did not return a message seeking comment.