West Virginia judge orders victims to pay half of sex abuser's legal fees in Mormon Church cover-up suit
A judge's gavel (Shutterstock)

A West Virginia judge ordered sex abuse victims to pay half the attorney costs for the Mormon Church in a civil suit alleging that church officials covered up previous claims against their abuser.

Naturally, the victims and their families don’t wish to help the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints defend itself against their claims – so they have asked an appeals court to vacate the Berkeley County Circuit Court judge’s order, reported The Journal-News.

Christopher Michael Jensen, of Martinsburg, was convicted in February 2013 of one count of first-degree sexual assault and two counts of sexual abuse by a custodian, and he was sentenced to up to 75 years in prison.

The 23-year-old Jensen, who is the son of two local Mormon leaders, sexually abused two boys who were ages 3 and 4 at the time while babysitting them in 2007.

Twelve children and their families filed a lawsuit in October 2013 against the church and several local officials, including Jensen’s parents – a high priest and relief society president.

The suit claims church leaders continued to recommend Jensen as a babysitter despite the sex abuse claims lodged against him dating back to 2007.

The victims also claim church leaders tried to silence them and witnesses and failed to report the claims against Jensen to authorities, as required by law.

The plaintiffs filed a petition Jan. 12 asking the West Virginia Supreme Court to vacate Judge Gray Silver III’s order to pay half the cost of Jensen’s defense counsel in the civil case.

"This writ seeks relief from a Circuit Court order requiring that minor sex abuse victims pay legal fees in a civil action for the defense of the incarcerated pedophile who abused them,” the motion says.

The plaintiffs had agreed to pay for an attorney to serve a subpoena to Jensen in prison, but the defendants asked to expand the role of that attorney – a guardian ad litem who oversees the legal affairs of an incarcerated or incompetent person – and place him on their defense team.

The plaintiffs objected, saying defendants had no right to counsel in civil cases, and balked at paying the attorney’s legal fees.

They argued that the guardian, Kirk Bottner, acted as Jensen’s defense lawyer anyway, over their objections, and they asked a court in September to limit his role.

A court official recommended that each side in the case pay half of Bottner’s $46,000 bill.

A state Supreme Court hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 22.