By Steve Woodhouse
Des Moines — Arguments were made before the Iowa Supreme Court Monday, March10, in the ongoing appeal of former Pella Pastor Patrick Edouard.
Edouard was charged with three counts of third-degree sexual abuse and four counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist. He allegedly had forced sexual contact on at least three women while serving as a minister from 2003-10. Charges were filed in March 2011.
In August 2012, a Dallas County jury found Edouard not guilty on all three charges of sexual abuse, but found the former pastor guilty on all four of the sexual exploitation charges - including an additional charge of entering into a pattern/scheme/practice to engage in sexual exploitation as a counselor or therapist, a Class D felony. The last charge came as a result of being found guilty of two or more of the original sexual exploitation by a counselor or therapist charges in which he violated law banning sex between people who provide “mental health services” and those who come to seek guidance from them.
Edouard was sentenced to one year in prison for each of the sexual exploitation charges and five years for the ongoing charge in October 2012. He apologized for his actions during the sentencing. The Marion County Sheriff's Office placed him in handcuffs and intended to take him to the Iowa Medical and Classification Center in Oakdale to begin serving his sentence.
However, Edouard was never taken into the custody of the Iowa Department of Corrections. He has still never been taken to prison for these crimes.
According to Iowa DOC Spokesman Fred Scaletta, there are reasons a convicted felon may be able to avoid prison, including the possibility that an appeal was filed fast enough, and a large enough sum of money posted, that one could avoid spending time in prison. Scaletta did not know the specifics as to why Edouard has never been to prison.
Edouard filed a motion in arrest of judgment and posted a $5,000 cash appeal bond on the date he was sentenced. Nearly a full year later, the Iowa Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in his appeal. On Nov. 20, 2013, the Court of Appeals reversed the District Court's conviction and gave Edouard a new trial. The State filed a request to the Supreme Court for further review of the case on Dec. 10, 2013. The Supreme Court granted the motion for further review on Jan. 23, and the oral arguments were made Monday, March 10.
Sheryl Soich with the Iowa Attorney General's Office argued for the State. Much of the appeal, and the arguments made at the Supreme Court, revolved around the definition of "counselor" and mental health treatment. Justice Edward Mansfield asked Soich if the definition of "counselor" is broad enough to include a bartender.
Soich said she believes that the definition, used by the Iowa Court of Appeals in its decision, is too narrow and did not fit into this case. She argued that "counselors" with no formal training, such as bartenders, are not on the same level as clergymen. In this case, Edouard was a "revered man of the cloth" at the time, according to Soich, who offered his help.
Justice David Wiggins asked Soich if part of the State's argument would be against clergymen having sexual relationships with parishioners. Soich responded by saying that the State is not arguing against sexual relationships between clergy and parishioners, but that the kinds of conversations that took place between Edouard and the women who have accused him of these crimes, resembled one of a counselor.
Wiggins suggested the examples Soich provided were "normal conversations" between a pastor and someone, intended to reach a level of intimacy that bases a relationship.
"That's not what we had here," Soich said.
Justice Daryl Hecht shifted the conversation to jury instructions. He found the fact that the instructions, read to the jury prior to deliberations, did not include the definition of "counseling" as troubling. He asked Soich if the jury needed the State's assistance in defining what "counseling" is for the purpose of this case.
Soich replied by saying that she felt the jury did not need the assistance, that they would be able to find out this definition on their own. After more discussion, Soich closed her argument by saying that what counselors do can take many forms and that the definition of "counselor" when weighing crimes, should not become too narrow, in that it could "hamstring" the State in future prosecutions.
"I think the definition is narrow enough," Soich said.
Edouard's attorney was then given the opportunity to present his argument, as to why the Supreme Court should support the Court of Appeals' decision and dismiss the case.
Dickey said he believes that the Legislature was clear when writing the laws against counselors having sexual relationships with their patients that as long as one is not providing mental health services and parties involved are consenting adults, there is nothing wrong with the relationship.
Precedent was cited by Dickey, regarding what constitutes mental health treatment in the eyes of the law. Wiggins asked Dickey if the rules were different for pastors.
"It's sort of hard to draw that line," Wiggins said.
Dickey replied that he rejects the notion that Edouard was providing genuine mental health treatment.
Hecht asked if the State came close to proving that by pointing out that Edouard had asked the women about their marriages, state of mind and other personal issues. He asked if that comes close to seeking a mental health assessment.
"The short answer is, "No,'" Dickey replied. He went on to cite another case, State vs. Gonzalez (which the Court of Appeals used to base its definition of "counselor" and, ultimately, its decision upon) to support his argument.
Dickey believes that the State agreed with Edouard's accusers, though what these women believed was "counseling" actually was not. He reiterated that Edouard was not providing mental health services. However, as Wiggins pointed out, the jury determined that Edouard was, in fact, counseling them. Dickey later argued that while the women may have thought they were getting mental health treatment, Edouard did not provide it.
Dickey closed by asking the court to affirm the Court of Appeals' ruling and reverse Edouard's conviction with prejudice.
Soich was given the opportunity for rebuttal. The Justices asked where the evidence was that the Edouard was providing mental health services. Soich pointed to testimony offered at trial. Some of the issues in which the women sought guidance from Edouard made Wiggins believe Edouard was simply offering advice.
"I'm constantly giving advice around here," Wiggins said. "Where does that line go?"
Offering advice does not make one a mental health counselor, Soich said. The jury was given the tools to make the distinction between friendly advice and providing counseling. Mansfield suggested that the court had a higher burden and that clear lines have been set.
"I think the line is as clear as it can be," Soich said.
Chief Justice Mark Cady then closed oral arguments. The case has been submitted for review by the Supreme Court. A decision is forthcoming. We will report that decision as soon as it is received.