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Sex Abuse Lawsuit Against Highland Park Church Set For Trial

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The lawsuit filed by a young woman who was sexually assaulted at the largest church in Casper by an employee will go to trial next year, a judge said Tuesday.

Natrona County District Court Judge Catherine Wilking set the 10-day, six-juror trial for July 10 during a pre-trial hearing attended by attorneys for the woman and the church.

After the hearing, church attorney Ryan Schwartz of the Casper firm Williams, Porter, Day & Neville said he could not comment on the pending litigation.

But a settlement is still possible, Schwartz and the woman’s attorney Michael Shickich said.

Shickich added the lawsuit will show whether the church will take responsibility what happened when it hired a registered sex offender, James Jaure, who assaulted the plaintiff and two other girls.

“We remain willing and open to a result that honors the children who are involved and places the responsibility on the church and has the church accepting its responsibility,” he said. “It’s not enough to talk the talk, but to walk the walk.”

Jaure began attending the church’s Celebrate Recovery program in 2008 when he was on probation for a 4.5- to 6-year suspended prison term for third-degree sexual assault. The church hired him as a custodian in 2009, but he told people he was a youth minister.

As early as 2011, church staff and parents told its leadership about Jaure‚Äôs criminal background, access to and behavior with youth, according to the woman’s complaint filed June 30.

Jaure assaulted the girl, now about 18, at the church in July 2012. Jaure also assaulted two other girls.

He later pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor and one count of third-degree sexual abuse of a minor. He was sentenced to 13-15 years imprisonment.

The young woman seeks unspecified compensation for damages — loss of enjoyment of life, loss of income and earning capacity, emotional distress, social problems, medical and counseling expenses — and punitive damages, according to her lawsuit.

The church has denied it gave Jaure unsupervised access to youth activities and denied it did not warn church attendees that he was a sexual predator. It also questions whether it should be responsible for the criminal act of another person.

Before the pre-trial conference Tuesday, the attorneys filed documents outlining the case, and listed prospective witnesses and exhibits.

For testimonies, both sides could call the young woman, her parents, other relatives and friends; current and former pastors of the church; current and former church employees; the two other girls who were assaulted and their relatives; health care providers; law enforcement officials; and Jaure.

Defense attorneys Schwartz and Amy Iberlin also wrote the court may need to expand its potential juror pool.

“Due to the publicity this event garnered, and the number of potential jurors with connections to the Defendant, it is anticipated that additional jurors may need to be called and added to the venire (list of potential jurors) in order to ensure a panel of 6 qualified jurors is obtained,” they wrote.

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