A student at the high school run by megachurch Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale endured repeated sexual abuse in 2006 by Rodger Thomas, a part-time church employee. In 2008, a judge sentenced Thomas to ten years in prison for sexual battery, and this week, a Broward County jury determined that the victim is owed $360,000 in damages from him.
The jury also cleared Calvary Chapel Church of wrongdoing in the case, ruling that the church wasn't responsible for the abuse.
The victim's attorney, Ronald D'Anna, does not expect that his client will collect the damages awarded for her suffering and psychological treatment. "[Thomas] has nothing... we don't anticipate that ever being collected," D'Anna says, "Judgments are good for 20 years, so maybe he'll win the lottery."
The lawsuit had claimed that the sexual abuse occurred at Thomas' home and at the church's Calvary Christian Academy throughout 2006. Internal emails from Calvary staff members showed suspicion of Thomas' relationship with the victim, D'Anna says.
Calvary Chapel is listed by Forbes magazine as the ninth biggest church in the country, with 17,000 weekly parishioners and $40 million in contributions. Attorneys for Calvary Chapel didn't return phone calls from New Times.
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D'Anna, who has been working on this case for three years, is preparing a motion for a new trial, even though he admits it's unlikely. Meanwhile, he awaits a decision on an appeal he filed on a separate but closely related negligence case against Calvary Chapel of Fort Lauderdale Inc., the land-holding body associated with Calvary Chapel Church. Previously, a summary judgment was issued in favor of Calvary. The case never went to trial, and the appeal sits before the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.
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