Letter in Question
By Joann Livingston firstname.lastname@example.org
Waxahachie Daily Light [Texas]
February 23, 2006
The political season is in full swing, with the latest development in the District 40 judge race being the anonymous distribution of a 14-year-old letter written by state District Judge Gene Knize in reference to disgraced former priest Rudy Kos.
A copy of the letter - which was distributed to some media outlets - was obtained by the Daily Light, with Knize responding to subsequent queries about the letter and its contents.
The letter was written in May 1992, several months prior to Kos' removal in late September as pastor from St. John Catholic Church in Ennis.
"The letter was written regarding church and school business years before the trial and before any information regarding sexual misconduct became known to me or our parish and was not solicited from me nor submitted by me for use in any trial," Knize said, noting that he wrote the letter in May 1992 to then Bishop Charles A. Grahmann "for information purposes regarding the church and school administration and requesting that the bishop conduct his own inquiry regarding any conflicts between the elementary school principal and the pastor."
The diocese didn't remove Kos from the parish until late September 1992, when the first of several victims made an outcry of sexual abuse.
The victims filed a civil lawsuit in May 1993, with a trial held in a state district court in Dallas in May 1997. A final settlement was reached in the case in July 1998.
Kos also was subsequently convicted on criminal charges and sent to prison.
The letter's scope
The letter was written concerning a disagreement between the elementary school principal and Kos that Knize described as a general philosophical difference of opinion regarding the operation of the school and cafetorium construction. The letter "in no way concerned any allegation of any kind of misconduct," Knize said, saying any allegations of wrongdoing were unknown at that time to him and others.
The letter reads in part, "It has come to my attention that certain persons within our community of St. John in Ennis, are making complaints about our pastor, Father Rudy. I have not been informed specifically who these people are nor the details of their accusations other than apparently the current elementary school principal is alleging that the pastor is interfering with her administration of the elementary school," wrote Knize, who at the time was serving as president of the parish council. "If you will make inquiry of the parents of the students, you will probably find some direction is entirely appropriate."
Knize noted in the letter that Kos had helped alleviate a division within the parish of those who supported the school and those who did not, and that the school was in the process of constructing a new cafeteria. Kos had supported the school and had done excellent work in other ministries, Knize wrote, asking the bishop to "not make any decision based on claims of the ever present malcontents (but to also) talk to the students, the parents of the students, and the parishioners who make up the parish council and school board."
The letter was written without any knowledge of any allegations of a sexual nature against Kos, Knize said in response to queries about the letter, saying, "Parish members, including parents of the victim at our parish and me, had no knowledge nor had heard any rumor of the pastor's improper conduct."
Diocesan withholding of information
Even after Kos left, Knize said he and the members of the parish continued to be left in the dark by the diocese.
"I and the members of the parish were told by the new pastor and the bishop's staff that Kos left solely for personal reasons. We specifically asked why Kos left and were told it was strictly a personnel matter and would not be discussed further," Knize said. "It was only several weeks or months later that I learned of the sexual allegations through news media reports.
"From those media reposts, it appears that the Dallas courts determined that the church administration had concealed or not taken the proper action in making their knowledge of Kos' conduct known to the authorities or to the parish to which he had been assigned by the Dallas Diocese," Knize said.
That the diocese was not forthcoming with St. John Parish in Ennis was brought into evidence at the Dallas trial in May 1997. Testimony indicated that officials with the Dallas Diocese knew Kos was receiving psychiatric care as early as 1991; however, that information was not disseminated to the parish members in Ennis. The deception about Kos continued even when he was removed from the parish, an assistant pastor at St. John's testified, saying he was angry that he and parishioners were not told the truth about why Kos left.
Fr. Williams testified he had to read a letter to the parishioners saying Kos had voluntarily resigned to seek treatment for stress.
"The diocese asked you to read the parish a lie?" plaintiff's attorney Windle Turley asked.
"Yes," was Williams' reply.
According to court documents, everyone who had submitted any type of correspondence to the diocese relating to Kos during his tenure as a priest, including Knize, was taken under deposition prior to the trial.
In his deposition, Knize said the statements and comments made in the letter were based upon his personal knowledge, perceptions of and dealings with Kos prior to the time the letter was written and that his contact with Kos was through parish business, such as the work on the school cafetorium. He said Kos appeared to be properly performing the duties of a pastor and that the letter was written relating to a conflict he understood was occurring between Kos and the elementary school principal. No one made any direct complaints to him, Knize said, "I understood Father Kos was saying that the elementary school principal was complaining to the diocese that Father Kos was interfering with the administration of the school."
Although the letter was among numerous letters and exhibits offered by the defense during the trial, Knize was not called to testify. When the letter was brought up, little testimony was given by a diocesan official about the letter before the subject matter moved in another direction, according to a trial transcript.
Not a parish decision
The bishop assigns parish priests to their parishes, Knize said, noting they are not chosen by the membership.
"Based on the fact that our bishop sent Kos to our church as our pastor, the church membership could not be expected to suspect that a pedophile had been assigned to our parish," Knize said. "Of course if there had been allegations of criminal conduct or sexual inappropriate conduct or we had been given any reason to believe that such was the case at the time the letter was written, the letter would never have been written. Therefore, based on the lack of information furnished to our church, I do not believe that anyone in the parish had a 'lapse in judgement.' "
Challenger says no connection
Knize's challenger in the Republican Primary, Fort Worth-based attorney Dan Altman, said he was unaware the letter was being distributed - and that there was no connection to his campaign.
"I wasn't aware of that," he said. "It's nothing I have condoned."
Altman said he couldn't recall how he came to know about the letter - or when - saying he didn't remember if someone gave him a copy or if he found it during a Google search of the Internet.
"Yes, I have seen the letter," he said.
Although the letter is being distributed, no one is taking credit for that - so far - anonymous effort. Placed on cars and dropped into the mail, the photocopies with a bright pink, unsigned note have been distributed from Italy to Ovilla according to recipients.
The statement on the anyonymous note reads, "The attached is a true & correct copy of the irresponsible recommendation letter written by Gene Knize for child pervert Rudy Kos!"
Altman said he knew nothing of the letter being personally handed to Knize by a child at a recent function where both candidates had made a stop.
The letter - and its meaning, if any to the campaign - may be a moot point, however the distribution.
As Altman said, "I really don't have enough information (about the letter) to have an opinion (about it)."
Perry says letter a violation
Former county judge candidate and former justice of the peace Paul Perry said he doesn't believe Knize had any knowledge of Kos' criminal behavior when the letter was written.
"I don't believe he knew, but I do believe he used improper judgement in writing a letter," said Perry, who said he obtained his copy of the letter from the Internet and that while he didn't distribute it he did let two people see it.
"I am absolutely not a part of that (anonymous distribution). I have not been distributing the letter … . Nor have I directed that to be done," said Perry, who is supporting Altman in the race for the state district judge position.
It could be anyone distributing the letter, Perry said, noting, "Typically, when you're in that position, you make enemies, whether you're doing the job or not. There's no point of trying to guess who's putting it out."
Perry does take exception to Knize making reference to his being a judge within the letter.
"I believe it violates the code on judicial conduct," Perry said. "That's my opinion. It doesn't show the judgment I expect of a seated trial judge, to draw a conclusion without knowing the facts."
Knize said there was no such violation.
"The letter was written on plain stationary without official letterhead - and informing someone of my occupation and background is not a violation of any state judicial conduct laws," said Knize, who had also noted in the letter his and his wife's service on numerous school and church organizations for the prior 20 years.
Age, term limits, liberal vs. conservative issues
Perry said he also takes issue with Knize on his age and the number of terms he has served.
"Heck, he's been in office so long I can remember when he was a Democrat," Perry said, saying that "absolutely" Knize's age is a factor in Perry's wanting to see a change made in the office - that and Perry's belief in term limits.
Asked for the date he changed parties, Knize responded, "I moved to the Republican Party in 1993 because I believed the Republican Party reflected the conservative philosophies which I have always held."
Altman, who says Knize is a liberal and not a conservative, said he had no involvement with the lone Knize protester at the recent candidates forum for Republican Primary candidates.
"That was an independent person (who set that up)," Altman said, saying he didn't even know the name of the protestor who carried a sign saying, "Knize loves baby rapers."
Altman acknowledged shaking the protester's hand at the end of the evening.
"I shook hands with everyone. I'm campaigning for office," he said. "I shook hands with Gene Knize. I shook hands with his wife."
More anonymous allegations
Knize also responded to a query about an anonymous allegation being put forth that he is "a tyrant and a despot in the courtroom - ignoring judicial rules and trampling on the rights of citizenry."
"If I knew who made such an allegation, if it was made, perhaps I could furnish the motive for such a statement," he said, "such as that person did not like the court's ruling if it was not in his favor, because in an anonymous survey of attorneys practicing in Ellis County by two different reputable publications conducted at different times, I was named 'best judge' and 'rated a solid nine by all for overall performance.' "
Not running a negative campaign
Altman says he's not out to run a negative campaign.
He says he's worked hard to build a positive image in the community - and says he's the one who feels "savagely attacked" alluding to recent stories covering his twice being administratively suspended from the State Bar of Texas, once for not paying an occupational tax and subsequent late fee on time but also for a non-compliance issue with his mandatory continuing legal education.
"I want to run a positive campaign," he said, saying, he would "definitely make sure (negative campaign tactics) didn't go on. I would rather talk about what I can do for the next four years in Ellis County."
The Kos aftermath
Even years later, the Kos debacle continues to provoke painful memories for all concerned.
"Our church, our children, our school and the members of the Christian community were betrayed by this man, and it was and is a tragedy for the victims and us all," Knize said. "I regret the victims are being required to endure this once again by twisting a legitimate letter concerning church and school business, based on information known at the time, into an allegation that 'Judge Knize supports child abusers.'
"Those aware of my 35-year record with Ellis County know better," Knize said.
Politics as usual?
The direction the campaign season seems to be taking may just be the norm for Ellis County.
"Politics in Ellis County has always been a contact sport," county Republican chairman Rusty Ballard said of issues continuing to come up in an already heated primary season. "The point is, none of this surprises me."
The divisiveness of the primary politics may be harming the Republican Party more than it's doing any good, however.
"We do as a party need to remember that this is just a primary - and there is a general election in November," Ballard said. "We all need to work together (for a common goal)."
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