Settlement Reached in Vanceburg Church Lawsuit
By Dennis K. Brown
The Lewis County Herald
October 31, 2017
|Attorneys Konrad Kircher and Bruce MacDonald hold a press conference outside Vanceburg Christian Church after filing a lawsuit against the church in this file photo.|
Members of Vanceburg Christian Church learned Sunday that a civil lawsuit filed against the church nearly a year ago has been settled.
Clayton "Buddy" Lykins Jr., an elder at the church, told those attending services Sunday morning about the development and added the agreement prohibits the general disclosure of the terms of the settlement agreement.
"In December of last year, as many of you know, our church was the target of a lawsuit filed by a teenage boy, alleging that our former pastor, Duncan Aker, sexually abused him. The incident occurred a number of years ago," Lykins told those who had gathered for Sunday morning services at the church. "Mr. Aker has not been associated with our church for the last seven years."
Aker was the minister at Vanceburg Christian Church between 2006 and 2011.
"Also, last year, Mr. Aker pled guilty to sexual abuse of the young boy, which opened up the church to possibly be liable to the youth in a civil lawsuit," Lykins said.
"No one at Vanceburg Christian Church had any reason to believe that Duncan Aker was engaging in any improper contact with this young person, or with any other person," Lykins said. "However, because the sexual abuse apparently happened, and we could say this because Mr. Aker pled guilty, the church could possibly be liable for not supervising Mr. Aker's actions."
Aker was arrested in Greensburg, Ind., in May 2015 on a nine-count grand jury indictment. He was listed as a minister for Greensburg Christian Church at the time of his arrest.
The nine-count indictment charged that on or about the period between Oct. 1, 2007, and March 1, 2010, Aker allegedly engaged in deviate sexual intercourse with a person less than 12 years of age through the use of forcible compulsion, and allegedly subjected the person to sexual contact by forcible compulsion and/or while the person was incapable of consent because the person was less than 12 years of age, at various locations.
The locations named in the indictment include in a motor vehicle on and/or alongside Kentucky 9 AA Highway, in the defendantís residence, in the church where the defendant was the minister, and in the defendantís outbuilding.
Aker pleaded guilty in Lewis Circuit Court in March 2016 to five counts of first-degree sexual abuse as part of a plea agreement in which charges of four counts of first-degree sodomy were dropped.
Under the terms of his plea agreement, Aker, 66, was to serve a year in jail and then be on probation for five years. He will also have to register as a sex offender for the remainder of his life.
Aker was released from the Lewis County Detention Center on May 2, 2016, and is now living in Greensburg, according to the sex offender registry.
"It was evident that we would end up paying lawyers many thousands of dollars to defend the legal action, from beginning to end. We would have spent that money, regardless of whether we would have won the suit. And certainly, although we did nothing wrong, there is no guarantee we would have won the lawsuit. If we did not win, it could have meant financial ruin for our church," Lykins told the congregation.
The lawsuit sought compensation for pain and suffering damages, medical and counseling expenses, lost wages and lost earning capacity. Attorneys for the plaintiff declined to state a dollar amount when the lawsuit was filed locally.
"Because of the expense of attorneys and the legal process, and the uncertainty of the outcome of a trial, the church leaders have decided to enter into a settlement with the young boy's attorneys to end the lawsuit," Lykins said on Sunday.
"Well over 90 percent of civil lawsuits end with a settlement, and after much discussion, consultation, reflection and prayer, the leaders of this church determined that was the best solution to this very difficult matter," Lykins said.
"This will remove a large cloud over our church, and will allow us to move forward without the uncertainty of what will happen to our church in the future," he said.
"It is extremely important to get this matter behind us, so we can proceed with the important business of growing God's Church and God's Kingdom," Lykins told the congregants.
"As long as the lawsuit was pending, all future plans involving major spending of church funds were in question, and with the settlement, we are free to move forward in the manner we are led," he said.
Lykins said the settlement agreement, as most settlement agreements do, contains language prohibiting the disclosure of the terms of the settlement agreement.
"This type of disclosure prohibition is for the benefit of both sides to the lawsuit," Lykins said. "Although we have great sorrow for the events, we strongly believe that we have no legal responsibility for what may have happened between our former pastor and the young boy. Our church has admitted no liability or blame whatsoever in this lawsuit, and we accept none."
Lykins said some of the terms of the agreement could be shared only with members of the church and a closed meeting for church members was held Sunday afternoon with Lykins providing the information that could be shared with those members in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
Those attending were admonished "not to tell anyone, whether it be face-to-face, by phone, Facebook or other social media, or any other means or method, the terms of the settlement."
"We do not want to re-open this case and potentially face more attorney's fees and civil liability as a result of someone divulging the terms of the settlement agreement to those who are not members of the church," he said.
Lykins acknowledged an outpouring of support for the church by members and others in the community from the time the lawsuit was filed.
"Rather than suffer and become discouraged and depleted through this difficult challenge, our church has prospered and grown," Lykins stated.
"Through the love and encouragement of you, our beloved congregation, and through the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, we will move forward stronger and more united than ever," he said.