A Hennepin County jury has awarded a woman from Winona, Minn., $1.4 million in damages against her former pastor and the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church for trauma caused by sexual abuse by the pastor and the church's governing body's negligence in overseeing him.
On Thursday, the jury awarded Samantha Beach, 40, $410,000 for psychological damage caused by the relationship with Donald Dean Budd, 67, former pastor at McKinley Methodist Church in Winona. On Friday, the jury added a $1 million award for punitive damages.
Budd pleaded guilty in 2009 to two felony counts of sexual abuse for a three-year inappropriate relationship that began when he counseled Beach in 2003 after her grandfather's death. Budd received a sentence of 15 years' probation.
In the civil lawsuit filed in 2009, Beach's attorneys argued that the state church's Annual Conference failed to protect Beach. She alleged the church failed to suspend Budd, rather telling her to no longer attend the church where the abuse had occurred.
Beach's attorney, Robert Hajek, said the jury's finding is significant nationally because it found the conference liable for the pastor's actions. "The jury found that although the conference had the obligation to train him, they didn't, and although they had the obligation to supervise him, they didn't," Hajek said.
Victoria Rebeck, communications director for the Minnesota Annual Conference, said that despite the jury's finding, the conference continues to dispute that and some other claims raised in court.
She issued this statement from conference leader Bishop Sally Dyck: "The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church takes this very seriously. [It] is committed to doing everything it can to create a safe environment for all, especially vulnerable people. Our theology, our laws, and our practices are clear: Our pastors and laypeople are expected to meet a high moral standard in their professional and personal lives."Rebeck said that at all times, Dyck followed the due process required by the denomination. When Beach first approached Dyck in 2006 with accusations against Donald Budd, then in Winona, Dyck acted immediately, restricting Budd from performing counseling or being alone with females, Rebeck said.
"Our goal in this situation has been to act responsibly," Dyck said in her statement.
Hajek said that it's unlikely that Beach will see any of the $1 million in damages leveled against Budd, but that she is far more likely to be paid the $410,000, which he said was leveled against the conference. However, Rebeck said it is the conference's understanding that it is responsible for only 40 percent of that amount, $164,000. The two sides are likely to remain in dispute about that amount until a judge's review next month, Hajek said.
The $1 million that's unlikely to be paid to Beach was more symbolic, he said. "It's to send that message out there to tell others, 'Don't do this,'" he said.
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921