|High Court to Hear Plea of Accused Ex-Priest
Michael Nash, Who Faced Sex-Abuse Allegations, Wants to Practice Law in Iowa
By Abby Simons
Des Moines Register
August 30, 2007
Iowa — A former Alaska priest accused of sexual abuse and denied admission to Iowa's bar in 2006 will fight before Iowa's high court today for his right to practice law in the state.
Michael Patrick Nash, 57, a 2006 Creighton Law School graduate, formally left the priesthood in 2005 following accusations that he had sexually abused boys in remote areas of the Juneau Archdiocese in the 1980s.
In legal briefs, his attorney contends that the Iowa Board of Law Examiners erred in its refusal to admit him to the Iowa Bar Association. The board counters that Nash's admitted acts against the boys, which included requesting foot and neck massages and making them do calisthenics in their underwear as punishment for misbehavior, "raise character concerns adequate to deny him permission to practice in Iowa."
Nash, who currently lives in Omaha, and his attorney, Mark McCormick of Des Moines, declined to comment before oral arguments were made. Assistant Attorney General Jeanie Kunkle Vaudt, who represents the seven-member Iowa Board of Law Examiners, also declined to discuss the case, citing the pending Supreme Court hearing.
Nash has vehemently denied allegations by Joel Post who in 2002 claimed he was repeatedly raped by Nash in remote areas of Alaska in the 1980s. In 2004, Nash filed a federal defamation lawsuit against Post. According to briefs filed by Nash's attorney, it ended with a settlement in which the diocese would state that it wasn't opposed to Nash's admission to the bar if Nash would acknowledge that his disciplinary acts prior to 1990 were "inappropriate and might be perceived as sexually inappropriate."
Nash admitted asking for massages, but said his intentions were not sexual in nature. The calisthenics were simply a form of punishment and not intended to be inappropriate, he said.
Nash enrolled at Creighton in 2003 with permission from the Archdiocese of Juneau, where he was still employed but no longer active in the priesthood following the allegations, all of which were made two decades after the purported victims said they had occurred.
Prior to his graduation from Creighton, Nash was offered a job at a Story City law firm and applied to take the Iowa bar exam, prompting letters of concern from Bishop Michael Warfel and the Rev. Patrick Travers of the Juneau Archdiocese. In his letter, Travers objected to Nash's application "based upon his observation that Mr. Nash had character issues adversely affecting his ability to practice law."
Nash was allowed to take the bar exam, but after a four-day hearing, the board requested that Nash undergo a psychiatric evaluation, in which he was found not to suffer from any disorder that would make him a risk for abuse. Still, the board denied Nash admission to the bar in February 2006 because of the character concerns.
David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), sides with the board, saying that, despite the fact that Nash never was criminally prosecuted, allowing him into legal practice could be dangerous.
"The shortest response is, why take the risk? No one has a God-given constitutional right to be a priest or a lawyer, or any of the professions requiring licensure," Clohessy said.
"To me, it's almost like saying he used a shotgun to rob a bank, so what's the harm in giving him a handgun?"
Nash maintained that he was open about his departure from the priesthood, and also earned a nod of support from Creighton Law School dean Patrick Borchers, who "believes Nash has high moral character and will make an excellent lawyer."
Borchers, now vice president for academic affairs at Creighton, also declined to discuss the case through his secretary, citing his status as a lawyer and saying he couldn't discuss an ongoing case.
Reporter Abby Simons can be reached at (515) 284-8136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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