A split verdict Thursday in a lawsuit alleging that a local clergyman sexually exploited a former church staff member gave both sides something they wanted.
The jury ruled just after noon Thursday that the Rev. Stan Archie’s Christian Fellowship Baptist Church must pay $350,000 to the former staffer and her husband for misrepresenting that its 2007 investigation into her abuse allegations was a serious inquiry aimed at learning the truth.
“I think this is a good and fair verdict,” said Rebecca Randles, who represented the couple. “I hope our clients are able to heal.”
Michael McCausland, a lawyer representing Archie and the church, noted that jurors rejected all claims against the pastor.
“I’m pretty pleased to say there was a full defense verdict regarding all allegations against the Rev. Stan Archie,” McCausland said. “I believe he has finally been exonerated.”
He also noted that during the trial, a judge threw out claims of defamation and invasion of privacy and dismissed allegations that the church had put the former staffer in a “false light.”
McCausland said the church plans to appeal the $350,000 judgment.
Archie resigned as president of the Missouri State Board of Education in January 2013 after two women filed lawsuits accusing him of sexual misconduct.
The former staffer said Archie had taken sexual advantage of her by abusing his position as a pastoral counselor at the church. Three other women testified at the trial this month that Archie had inappropriate sexual discussions with them.
Yet jurors rejected allegations that Archie and the church had defrauded the staffer by misrepresenting that the pastor was a “safe and competent” counselor.
The jury appeared to have ruled either that no misrepresentation had occurred or that the staffer had not been injured.
Ultimately, jurors awarded less than half of what the church staffer had asked for — $750,000 — and the jury declined to consider punitive damages.
In July 2007, church elders received a copy of a letter in which the former staffer complained to the pastor that “all you wanted to do was … make me your sex toy.”
Elders convened a quick investigation in which they questioned Archie and the former staffer and reviewed computer records.
Ultimately they concluded that the staffer had fabricated her charges.
In his closing arguments Wednesday, McCausland defended the elders’ investigation, even if it wasn’t perfect.
“They’re a church, not a grand jury,” he said.
But a statement that appeared in a church publication noted that the former staffer had fabricated her allegations and instructed church members to shun her and her supporters.
“It tore from them their family of faith,” Randles said in her closing arguments. “These men were shameless.”