Judge Colleen Sterne expressed serious skepticism that allegations of sexual abuse by a former youth minister with the Carpinteria Community Church met the broad legal definition of “public nuisance,” but she gave attorney Tim Hale, representing one of the alleged victims, a chance to refile his complaint. Hale contends that Louis Bristol, made a youth minister as a teen with the Carpinteria church in 2000, began having a sexual affair with a 16-year-old girl who belonged to the congregation. Despite reports this was going on in 2003, Hale contends the church never filed a police report. Likewise, no reports were made — no warnings issued — when other complaints of sexual misconduct surfaced 10 years later.
Sterne’s ruling addressed the legal questions underpinning the case, not the facts of the allegations. In her ruling, Sterne made it clear she was comfortable with legal arguments based on negligence by the church but not public nuisance. Hale, who specializes in sweeping, institutional sex-abuse cases, claims the public-nuisance argument allows greater leeway to explore — and expose — an intentional policy of cover-up among church higher-ups. It also, he said, provides the greatest opportunity for injunctive relief.