The list of men accusing a former Texas state judge, former Texas Rep. and leading figure of the Southern Baptist Convention Paul Pressler of sexual misconduct continues to grow.
In separate court affidavits filed this month, two men say Paul Pressler molested or solicited them for sex in a pair of incidents that span nearly 40 years. Those accusations were filed as part of a lawsuit filed last year by another man who says he was regularly raped by Pressler.
Pressler’s newest accusers are another former member of a church youth group and a lawyer who worked for Pressler’s former law firm until 2017.
Toby Twining, 59, now a New York musician, was a teenager in 1977 when he says Pressler grabbed his penis in a sauna at River Oaks Country Club, according to an affidavit filed in federal court. At that time, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel Church in Houston; he was ousted from that position in 1978 after church officials received information about “an alleged incident,” according to a letter introduced into the court file.
Brooks Schott, 27, now a lawyer in Washington state, says in an affidavit that he resigned his position at Pressler’s former law firm after Pressler in 2016 invited Schott to get into a hot tub with him naked.
He also accuses Jared Woodfill, Pressler’s longtime law partner and the head of the Harris County Republican Party until 2014, of failing to prevent Pressler’s sexual advances toward him and others, which Schott says were well-known among the firm, the documents state.
In 1989, after the FBI ran a “background check” on Judge Pressler, his name was “withdrawn” as President George Bush’s choice to head the Office of Government Ethics. Public statements at the time declared the withdrawal to be about issues other than allegations of sexually predatory behavior, but one wonders if there was more to the story.
Documents recently made public show that in 2004, Pressler agreed to pay $450,000 to another former youth group member for physical assault. That man, Duane Rollins, filed a new suit last year in which he demands more than $1 million for decades of alleged rapes that a psychiatrist recently confirmed had been suppressed from Rollins’ memory. Rollins also claims the trauma pushed him to the drugs and alcohol that resulted in multiple prison sentences.
At the time of the earliest allegation, in 1977, Pressler was still a relatively minor figure in Southern Baptist circles. His rise to power in the Southern Baptist Convention began only after his ouster from Bethel, according to his memoir and court records.
In the years after, Pressler worked at Houston’s First and Second Baptist churches, was a state representative and served for 14 years as a justice on Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals. During that period, the SBC moved toward a literal interpretation of the Bible and condemned homosexual behavior.
Pressler was also asked in 1989 to head President George H.W. Bush’s Office of Government Ethics, though his nomination was later withdrawn.
Affidavits for Twining and Schott were submitted this month as part of the suit filed by Rollins against Pressler and eight other defendants, including Woodfill, the Southern Baptist Convention, and Houston’s First and Second Baptist churches. In 2016, a psychiatrist concluded that Rollins had suppressed memories of years of rapes and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as “a direct result of the childhood sexual trauma he suffered,” court records show.
Rollins and his attorney, Dan Shea, say they initially were not allowed to keep a copy of the 2004 settlement. Shea said the new suit was filed in part because of concerns that Pressler, now 87, might stop making the monthly $1,500 payments he agreed to send Rollins until 2029.
An attorney for Pressler did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. A woman who answered the phone at Pressler’s home said he was unable to talk.
Rollins v. Second Baptist Church (4:18-cv-00775), District Court, S.D. Texas (remanded to State Court)
A church youth group
Twining says he met Pressler at a Houston-area church in the late 1970s, when Pressler was a youth pastor and a prominent Texas state judge. His affidavit does not name the church, but Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel at the time, according to court documents, Bethel officials and Pressler’s memoir.
Pressler “led the group in prayer and, in the manner of evangelical thinking, invited individuals to commit their lives to Christ,” Twining wrote. “At this time, I looked up to Paul Pressler — he was my first youth group instructor, an eminent state judge and a trustworthy older friend.”
Later that year, Twining said, he started attending an annual men’s retreat at Pressler’s ranch near Austin, where “young men of high school and college age comprised the majority of participants and a weekend stay over was the norm.”
On one such retreat, Pressler told Twining there was a shortage of beds and asked if the two could share a bunk bed, according to the affidavit.
“I preferred to sleep alone and assumed that Pressler, as the retreat’s host, was politely inconveniencing himself as well,” Twining wrote. “One night that weekend, Pressler told me he was cold and then he unexpectedly rubbed his feet against mine under the covers without asking. … It struck me as odd, but it was over as soon as it began so I did not say anything and shrugged it off. However, in retrospect and in light of what follows, I now believe Pressler had designs on me early in our acquaintance.”
By 1977, Twining was preparing for his sophomore year at the University of Houston and Pressler’s youth group was regularly meeting on Sundays, according to the affidavit. It was normal for the young boys and men to meet Pressler at the River Oaks Country Club, Twining said.
Now 59, with a wife, two children and a music career that includes teaching stints at the University of Maryland and New York’s Tisch School of the Arts, Twining said he still vividly remembers one night in August 1977, when he rode alone with Pressler to River Oaks Country Club.
“Nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” he wrote. “Normally four to twelve of my peers would car-pool to the club…. On the way, I noticed I was his only passenger and asked him who else was going. Pressler told me that we were the only two. I remember that I felt disappointed and that I suspected nothing.”
Twining then recalls entering the sauna at the club with Pressler alone.
“I remember being the first to go in and sit down,” Twining wrote. “Pressler followed, but instead of taking a seat, he halted in front of me. At that moment, he reached out suddenly and grabbed my penis, pumped it, then pulled back his hand quickly.”
“I froze. Shocked, stunned and utterly frightened, I had no idea what to expect next,” Twining wrote. “I was naked and trapped — miles from home — and I needed to get to safety. I somehow got out of the sauna, entered the showers and kept beyond Pressler’s reach.”
The details of Twining’s affidavit are similar to the first abuses that Rollins said he suffered at baths and a whirlpool at the University Club in Houston’s Galleria area.
Brooks Schott states in the documents that he met Pressler in 2016, after Schott was hired as a lawyer at the firm Pressler co-founded with Woodfill.
Schott says he was invited to lunch by Pressler in December 2016. He arrived at Pressler’s home, he says, where he was greeted by Pressler, who was not wearing pants. After dressing, Pressler gave Schott a tour of his office and mentioned a 10-person hot tub at his ranch.
“Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked,’ ” Schott’s affidavit states. “He then invited me to go hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity.”
Upon returning to the firm, Schott said an office manager told him that Pressler had previously solicited young men at the firm. Schott then complained to Woodfill, according to emails that were filed with his affidavit.
“If (the office manager) knew of Pressler’s past inappropriate sexual behavior, I find it hard to believe that you did not know about it,” he wrote in a Dec. 9, 2016 email to Woodfill, court records show.
Woodfill responded that Pressler was no longer his law partner and that “this 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” court records show. In a subsequent email, Woodfill said that the conduct Schott described “is unacceptable” and said he would address it with Pressler.
In an email on Thursday, Woodfill responded to Schott’s assertion, writing that “the person described in Mr. Schott’s affidavit doesn’t match up with the Judge Pressler I know” and that Pressler “has not been associated with my law firm for over a decade.”
He also provided a copy of a letter from Schott, written last month, in which Schott offered to sign a non-disclosure agreement in exchange for $35,000. Schott said that included the costs for his moving to Houston, preparing for the bar exam, paying off a lease when he left town and other expenses.
Schott resigned from the firm in May 2017. In his resignation letter, which was also submitted to the court, he cites Pressler’s advances as a key reason for his departure.
In a January 2017 letter that was made public as part of Rollins’ lawsuit, an attorney for Bethel Church, Frank Sommerville, confirmed that the church “received information about an alleged incident involving Mr. Pressler in 1978.”
“Upon learning of the alleged incident, the church immediately terminated Mr. Pressler’s involvement with the youth group and its activities,” Sommerville wrote. “The Presslers subsequently left the church sometime in late 1978.”
In his memoir, “A Hill on Which to Die,” Pressler described the timeline of his departure from the church, writing that he and his wife, Nancy, resigned in 1979 after realizing they could not dedicate themselves to the Southern Baptist Convention while they were members of a non-SBC church.
Pressler wrote that he first attended one of the SBC’s annual conventions while it was in Houston in 1968, though merely to “hear the messages.”
He attended at least two more conventions before his departure from Bethel, and met more regularly with Southern Baptist leaders in the 1970s.
He wrote that in December 1978, “God opened the door for me to participate in changing the convention by altering my personal work situation” — a reference to his earlier appointment to the Court of Appeals, which he said allowed him more time to travel.
Later that year — and only a few months after his departure from Bethel — Pressler wrote that he was challenged by a pastor, who asked him: “Are you going to minister to 250 high-school students or 13 million Southern Baptists?”
“I realized that I needed to give up working with the young people who had been very close to my heart,” Pressler wrote. “We had seen so many trust the Lord and grow in their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”