And, just like that . . . It is over. On February 26th, 2018 at 9:00am the final gavel fell on the lawsuit against Bill Gothard and IBLP that has consumed the attention of so many of us for the past 2 years. All remaining plaintiffs – 12 at this point – filed paperwork to voluntarily dismiss the charges. The original suit of 8 plaintiffs was filed toward the end of 2015 citing IBLP for negligence. Over a period of months the number of plaintiffs grew to 17, Bill was added as a defendant as well as Dr. Ken Copley and Matthew Heard. Some plaintiffs dropped early, all criminal charges were dropped, Dr. Copley was dropped. Then, last fall, 5 more voluntarily left the suit, including the initial plaintiff, Gretchen Wilkinson. The legal team wanted the process kept silent as they worked to find a full solution, so we complied and did not report this. The suit was to have entered the deposition stage today. Instead, the remaining plaintiffs left. All claims – totaling around $8 million – against IBLP, Bill Gothard and other named defendants are included in the dismissal.
Our team was deeply grateful for the Board covering all expenses of legal support and protection for Bill during this time. We remain very impressed with the skill and experience of Glenn Gaffney, the lawyer that directly represents him.
What We Can Say, What We Can’t Say, and What We Suspect
All of the plaintiffs made a statement on Spiritual Sounding Board today. In the process a couple of the “Jane Does” unmasked themselves, which took some courage. One “Doe”, Emily Jaeger, posted a lengthy statement of her own.
We have been working on a statement for some time, so will proceed with what we know and respond to details of plaintiff statements in the future.
We can say that, having being backed by two respected law firms, the collapse of the suit was not for incompetence, unlike the original debacle with their prior attorney, David Gibbs III, who was kicked off by the judge. We can also say that no money changed hands, meaning there was no settlement, each side taking care of their own expenses. As an elective end to the action on the plaintiff side the court leaves the matter “without prejudice”, meaning they could in theory refile the charges within one year from the drop point.
What we suspect is that the case simply fell apart. Several of our team were privileged to support the defense with research and analysis in an official capacity – with that as background:
1) Discovery – “Discovery” is the point in the lawsuit where each side is required to provide all documents, communications, statements that reference the case and its claims. Discovery was brutal for the plaintiffs. Several waves of defense demands produced 30,000 pages of mostly Facebook chats from and between the plaintiffs, beside other discovery documents. This yielded crystal clear evidence of coordinated collusion between Recovering Grace, lawyers associated with RG, and the plaintiffs with the primary purpose of destroying Bill and his ministry. Much evidence proved that the alleged “negligence” and “abuse” being claimed were stood up to make sure the lawsuit succeeded.
One plaintiff had absolutely nothing to report on things that Bill had done to her. Faced with the threat of being dropped, that night she had a vivid dream of Bill molesting her. When she reported it to Gibbs, he assured her it must be true, and put the dream as an actual event in the complaints. Afterwards she agonized to others about the possibility that he had misled her, that maybe the dream was not true after all. A plaintiff wondered if Bill’s hands might have slipped while “casting out demons” from her (a practice he does not follow, by the way). That was also subsequently sewn into the suit. Another was asked by a lawyer to list the worst thing Bill had ever done to her: Her reply, “He almost kissed me once”. For this she was asking $450,000 in damages. Plaintiffs were openly pleading with others to help them remember – and potential witness after witness told them that, after 20 years, they simply could not remember.
The 30,000 pages of typical Facebook chats were just the beginning. The plaintiffs had actively collaborated in several secret forums, some set up by Recovering Grace, some set up by the law firms, none of which were produced and which they were now under subpoena to present in entirety – TODAY. We saw evidence of them preparing to delete large amounts of these interactions, which is a crime. The possibility of sanctions for failing to produce these communications after repeated judge-blessed requests to do so was very real. It was the suspicion of the defense team that these years-long thought-to-be-private bare knuckle chats would have absolutely shredded their claims of both abuse and “inability to remember”. And the likely inability to produce them would have cost them all a lot of money.
Legal wisdom would have cautioned them away from any discussions in any format other than audio and any that counseled them otherwise did not serve them well. On the other hand, the plaintiffs as a group demanded that they be allowed to continue to support each other with chats, even when some on their legal team were concerned. “Without chats there would be no lawsuit” was a statement made over and over. So a double-edged sword: No collaboration, no suit, yet collaboration, trading memories and strategies, supporting each other emotionally, hastened the end of the suit.
2) Statutes of Limitations – The defense lawyers were stunned when Judge Popejoy allowed the case to continue a year ago in the face of the failure of even one plaintiff to meet the statute of limitations for the type of charges being discussed. It was clear that he was giving them every benefit of every doubt. However, the ground on which the suit was allowed to proceed in the face of that was extremely narrow. That basis was the plaintiffs individually being able to prove that the alleged damage did not commence until a point within recent history when they first realized that they were in fact damaged. This would require verification of a specific psychological condition that made them previously unable to remember or comprehend. All 17 plaintiffs claimed such a condition, but they were clearly having difficulty making that case. Several openly objected to the lawyers having inserted this clause, stating that they had no problem remembering, obviously unaware that the only reason they were still in the suit was that statement.
The reason for statutes of limitations is clear. Over time the memories of even the sharpest mind fade, and recollection begins to mix with possibility and the tales of others. Those statutes are not designed to deprive the abused of their rights, but to keep defendants from being deprived of theirs. In this case plaintiffs were struggling to reconstitute memories after 20 years. Under such circumstances those “recovered memories” easily morph and adapt in amazing ways to meet the needs of the present circumstances. This is especially true when you have a group of motivated individuals trading information back and forth. That is completely unfair.
We watched the evolution of some of these tales over a period of time in the chats. First there was no memory of abuse whatsoever, then came an expression or question of a possibility, then talking back and forth, encouragement . . . and finally settling on a tale that they claimed to be completely true. In one case a plaintiff stated in the suit that Bill had touched her breasts during counseling. She may have forgotten that she had several years prior given a report to the Hinsdale Police at the request of Recovering Grace, where the officer specifically asked her whether Bill had touched that area, or any other private area. She stating unequivocally that he had not. Yet when the lawsuit needed some meat, she amazingly discovered these salacious details and, thanks to the report demanded by RG, impeached herself.
3) Counter Claims – Bill has been severely damaged by claims made by Recovering Grace in general and the plaintiffs in particular, claims that were both false and driven by malice, making them “defamation”. Claims of “footsie”, a sexually charged term, is “defamation per se” if the alleged “foot activity” cannot be proven to be sexual. Stating that “over 60 women are accusing him of “sexual harassment”” when referring to women who cannot even remotely meet the qualifications for “sexual harassment” is defamation. Calling him a “pervert” or “molester” is, again, open and shut defamation if the “fact” cannot be proven when challenged. Many reckless statements were made over many years. Within current Illinois law such statements may only be prosecuted within one year of initial presentation. Additionally, no statement made in legal pleadings may form the basis of a lawsuit for defamation. However, if plaintiffs sue over alleged abuses, having made false statements about those abuses in the past, the statute of limitations involving defamation is waived. Bill was preparing counter actions against several of the plaintiffs for slander on this basis. It was a bit of a game for many of them, making bold, exaggerated if not absolutely false statements to the press with obvious malice and every intention of damaging him as much as possible. Lawsuits are not a game.
In addition, under Tort Law an entity such as Recovering Grace conspiring to deprive someone of their reputation, their livelihood, their ministry based on false or exaggerated claims is guilty of a criminal offense. An action to recover damages from those furiously collaborating to this end was being prepared. It may still be brought. This was an extremely wrongful use of the lawsuit process.
4) Return on Investment – When a personal injury firm, like the local and respected firm of Meyers and Flowers, takes a case like this “on contingency”, they typically borrow money or get investors to proceed, all on the gamble of a payout that will cover that and provide a profit. Firms like those headed by Gibbs and by Mark Bryant operate more on donations and funding from “causes”, clearly a limited funding source. In either case, their claim on the case might be 40-50% of “winnings”. Flowers and Bryant took the case after the disaster that Gibbs caused for the plaintiffs because they had some expectation of success. We suspect that expectation was built on bad information, for example assuming that, in 50 years of working with troubled youth, Bill must surely have done some much more serious things than those alleged by the initial plaintiffs. Where there is smoke, there must be fire.
Two years into the case it began to be clear that this was not going to happen. Not only were no other secrets coming to light, the stories of plaintiffs themselves were coming apart. It was stunning to see several plaintiffs writing impassioned emails to the new firms warning them of other plaintiffs that they knew to be liars. A plaintiff saying “He almost kissed me” (as an adult) is not going to get a jury award, no matter how important this seems on a personal level. One of the plaintiffs boldly proclaimed late in the game that she regularly communicates with demons, leaving the others shell-shocked. We think the firms decided to “cut their losses” just before depositions where the real money would need to be spent, bringing each plaintiff in, some from halfway around the world. Oh, and David Gibbs had filed a lien to get his share of the “winnings” as well, possibly encumbering the financial outcome.
5) Personal Toll – It was clear that the lawsuit took a heavy toll on the plaintiffs. Several entered counseling due to the stress. Some had other stresses unrelated to the case that made the prospect of continuing impossible. When faced with having to defend claims made in the suit through “interrogatories”, legal questions and answers that can form the basis of impeachment, several found the prospect impossible. Depositions were pending where all of the available information would be brought to bear on each plaintiff, again, providing a basis for impeachment.
Additionally, we were not aware of a single plaintiff claiming support from her parents. Several of the Does indicated they had sought anonymity, not to shield them from embarrassment from revelation of sexual abuse, but because their private networks were blissfully unaware of their actions. Should this come out, they would be dealing with severe personal grief from pastors, churches, unhappy family members. That is an illegitimate use of “Jane Doe” status.
As a personal note, one of the plaintiffs told of being awakened in the middle of the night deeply troubled by the status of the case, this during the time David Gibbs was removed for “malpractice”. In her distress she cried out to the Lord, and reported the comfort and confirmation of her Savior telling her He was handling it for her. This became a sobering moment of reflection at this end. Our team has had similar times of anguish, crying out to the Lord for mercy and help at specific difficult junctures, for Him to intervene and straighten this all out, and also bear witness to getting the same comfort in a most specific way. The Lord was clearly encouraging each of His children on opposite sides of this case. Perhaps it was due to her cries that the Lord allowed the case to go another year when it really should not have. The Lord had His Own on both sides of the Civil War, was able to give deliverance and comfort to each, and so it was here.
Regardless, most if not all of the plaintiffs suffered deeply as a result of the legal proceedings, harming their relationships, families, and with no relief in sight for some time. So it was easy to understand why they might drop out.
Where Things Stand
It remains that after active, even impassioned support from three significant legal firms, none of the charges brought by the plaintiffs were deemed able to pass muster to force a settlement or convince a jury that Bill specifically or IBLP in general were negligent, let alone criminal, in their dealings with these women. There is a chasm of difference between the lawsuit proceeding with 1 or 2 plaintiffs, and not even one claim able to continue.
Gretchen Wilkinson – pen name “Charlotte” – was the plaintiff that made the first claim of actual criminal mischief against Bill, and headlined the case, “Wilkinson vs. IBLP”. She gave many interviews to the press, did Bill much damage with her statements. In the end, she was one of the first to leave quietly last year, without an explanation to match her many prior public statements.
Discovery showed that the entire process, long before Gretchen, was a coordinated attack on Bill by former ATI students going through a bit of a “midlife crisis”. Recovering Grace, founded by former student Dr. John Cornish, a music professor, served to motivate and coordinate.
- As women came forward they were added to a secret chat group so they could share tales and get their stories in sync.
- When the suit arrived on the horizon, with Gibbs pretending to help Bill as he simultaneously plotted with Recovering Grace to file, those lists and their experience served to speed him on his way.
- For actual plaintiffs in the group, “A Matter of Basic Principles”, an anti-Gothard expose by Don Veinot, became required reading, apparently to get their messages coordinated.
- A co-founder of RG recruited her sister as a plaintiff.
- They cooked up a scheme to try to get 5% of the settlement to help fund Recovering Grace on into the future.
- The team searched the history of “The Crossings” – closed group that has existed for decades to allow former IBLP staff members to catch up – for other disgruntled individuals, then openly posting a request for any with moral dirt on Bill to make contact. It was particularly offensive when they heralded the entire month of April each year as “Sexual Abuse Awareness Month”, trying to scare up as much trouble for Bill as possible.
- In personal fishing expeditions of plaintiffs to prospects the message became: “This will be fun, you can hurt Bill, be a hero, stay anonymous, AND get a guaranteed $50K. We will support you every step of the way!” Plaintiffs got matching bracelets and a team motto, and planned a “girl’s trip” to a tropical paradise to celebrate their winnings with mimosas on the beach.
- Some plaintiffs were in desperate financial situations and the possibilities the suit offered were too tempting. They openly struggled to come up with a story to tell that would affix them in the case.
- Several that were not in money trouble stated that they would never have gotten involved if it were just about themselves, but wanted to help those in need get on their feet. As they discussed various end game scenarios, they cursed Bill and plotted how best to bankrupt the ministry.
The Lord is the judge of all, every heart, everyone that confesses His name, those that do not. To have escaped the instrument carefully crafted to make all the frustrated dreams of Bill Gothard haters over a half century come true is not something we take for granted and for which we bow before Him.
Bill has furiously maintained his innocence of any deliberate act that caused harm to an ATI student or staff member. I can attest that there were never any discussions of compromises to make the lawsuit go away. I sat with Bill as he answered the interrogatories from the plaintiffs, seeking to help him recollect all of the details that would be pertinent. There was nothing to hide, there is nothing to hide now.
Many have focused on an initial published statement years ago that “touching of hair, feet, shoulders was improper” as proof of guilt. The plaintiff lawyers focused on this and there was deliberate effort made to make sure this was understood the way it was intended and in the context it was made. The context: In the middle of the crisis that engulfed Bill and the Institute others around him urged him to make this statement, and he accepted it to show his willingness to humble himself to get a discussion started. The words used were meant to acknowledge that he had failed to realize that some things, like pulling a ponytail out of the coat of a young lady, were personally uncomfortable for some and thus should have been avoided for all. He never once “played footsies”, a fetish with a sexual intent. There was no “sexual harassment” possible, since there never was any sexual interest or focus. He stated to me several times with a sense of what I interpreted as bewilderment, “I tried to limit myself to expressions of care, concern and affirmation that were safe.” He thought he had hit that target. For the past 4 years, 20 years after the fact, everything has been openly, publicly second-guessed. In the light of all that has transpired, perhaps there will be a renewed willingness to actually sit down and discuss grievances in a Biblical manner, allow restoration of fellowship where a “talebearer” has created deadly rifts.
For his part Bill has written 28 books in the years that have elapsed. He completed his most recent one, “How to Know the Will of the Lord”, in the last two weeks as all of this unfolded. They may be considered on his websites http://billgothard.com and http://lifepurposepowerteams.com. He is working on several new initiatives, including “Embassy University”, that will be an instrument of online training. May the Lord overshadow him and the leadership of IBLP as they work through all that is now past, and focus on what the Lord intends to do through this 50 year old ministry in the future.
We read the statements the plaintiffs made today with some interest. In part because we have been quite involved in cataloging the statements they have made in public over the past several years. Some of these statements have been reckless and false – that is not lawyer talk, that is the truth. Some of them lied. Some of their “recovered memories” are also false, as we have been able to document. While they cannot sue for past statements, those slandered are most eager to challenge public defamation in the future, in court as necessary.
Christians are supposed to look each other in the eye and, possibly with the help of a fair arbitrator, settle their differences there, not in court. We will help in any way we can to make that happen. Several plaintiffs comforted themselves that they were justified in suing Bill because they have come to believe he is not saved. That is quite a statement. The “Higher Court” often referred to is open for Bill to plead as well. Bill is not perfect, but he is not the evil man that most of them portrayed. Each one stands before God for the damage done to Bill’s ministry, whatever part God sees as “for Him”. It is time to straighten this out.
To the plaintiffs: You don’t have to like Bill and you don’t have to ignore things that bothered you about Bill, but you HAVE TO TELL THE TRUTH. And if, as many of you found, you can’t corroborate claims because nobody else can remember details from 20 years ago, then defer to the limits of human memory and do not make those claims just to hurt someone you despise. To do so is reckless. Lies are the devil’s work, and I am convinced some saw that up close and personal. Each plaintiff will give account to the Lord for every word written in her name in the suit, now a permanent part of the public record. The Lord give you the courage to clear it up.