Statement from Victim Representatives
Statement from Victim Representatives
By Boz Tchividjian, Esq. & Caleb J. Aponte, Esq.
Along with local counsel, Caleb J. Aponte, I have had the privilege to work with several individuals who have reported being abused and traumatized while being a part of the IHOPKC community. I can assure you that this group wants the full truth to surface with the hope that those who have perpetrated abuse will be exposed and held accountable and that the system which fostered such a harmful environment will be genuinely transformed. Tragically, the actions of IHOPKC and its current leadership seemingly demonstrate a very different agenda.
As many may know, IHOPKC initially engaged a law firm to conduct what it touted as an “independent investigation” in relation to sexual misconduct allegations against Mike Bickle. At no time were any of the reported victims, or those who have publicly advocated on their behalf, ever been consulted by IHOPKC regarding the identity and/or qualifications of the “third-party” investigator nor provided any information regarding the process, protocol, and scope of such an “investigation.” All of it was simply dictated by IHOPKC with the expectation reported victims and witnesses would participate. When it was discovered that the unilaterally selected “third party investigator” was a law firm who has a fiduciary duty to its client (IHOPKC, not the reported victims), it became clear that this was an internal investigation being publicly labeled as “independent.” Shortly thereafter, we learned that IHOPKC reportedly dismissed that law firm and subsequently retained an attorney who is also a congregant of the church to conduct the “independent investigation.” This attorney also has a fiduciary duty to her client (IHOPKC, not the reported victims). I informed this attorney/congregant of IHOPKC that though she seemed like a very pleasant person and capable attorney, she was anything but “independent.” At that point in time, I suggested to her that IHOPKC move forward with a legitimate, qualified, and experienced third-party investigator who is not an attorney. I even offered to provide IHOPKC with some suggestions since I’ve been working in this field for almost thirty years. I also communicated to this attorney/congregant that it was imperative that IHOPKC expand the scope of any investigation beyond Mike Bickle to include allegations of sexual abuse perpetrated by anyone in leadership and/or on staff at IHOPKC as others have recently reported such allegations. I even suggested a two tier investigative approach where the allegations related to Mr. Bickle would first be investigated followed by investigating allegations related to others in leadership and/or staff. At the time, the attorney/congregant told me that she would pass along that suggestion up the chain. I never heard back from her about it.
In context of the above, I was quite surprised to receive an email on Friday, December 8th from yet another attorney from yet another law firm requesting to interview my client. At no time did they ever reach out to seek input from my client or any other reported victim regarding this process. Once again, they assumed that reported victims would participate in a supposed “independent” process that they had unilaterally determined. It was disheartening to many that we were right back at square one with IHOPKC engaging another law firm to conduct what it defined as an “independent investigation.” Only this time, the law firm is one that proudly touts its representation of defendant organizations (including but not limited to the Catholic Church) in sexual abuse related litigation. The law firm website proudly mentions such work, including but not limited to, the following statements:
- Obtained a complete dismissal of a private high school and an affiliated diocese in an action involving a volunteer coach who sexually assaulted a member of the girls’ softball team. A prompt and thorough investigation by our team allowed the client to assess its liability risks and whether its policies had been followed. The trial court granted motions arguing there was no duty to protect the plaintiff from sexual assaults that were unrelated to any school activity and occurred on private property.
- Represented a Roman Catholic diocese in a group settlement of 52 claims and a subsequent group settlement of 32 claims, resulting in per-claimant awards of less than one-third the national average.
- Obtained a complete dismissal of all claims against a religious organization in a case involving claims of sexual abuse.
Why would reported victims of sexual abuse and misconduct sit down with an attorney from a firm that represents churches in sexual abuse matters and then boasts about its successes? I have no doubt that this law firm well-represents organizational defendants in sexual abuse litigation. However, it cannot be all things to all people. It cannot represent and defend institutional clients in such cases and then turn around and invite reported sexual abuse victims to meet with its attorneys and to trust them. It simply doesn’t work that way. In an attempt to help the new attorney understand our position, I provided a copy of an article I wrote a few years ago about the difference between internal and independent investigations.
Despite the profound concerns raised above regarding the law firm’s representation of churches in sexual abuse cases, in a good faith effort to evaluate the attorney’s claims that she is “functioning as an independent investigator and nothing more” and is “perfectly capable of reaching unbiased and independent conclusions” I requested a copy of her engagement agreement with IHOP. She responded by writing “As a matter of practice we do not release entire engagement letters to non-parties”. Wouldn’t the attorneys who represent a Jane Doe be a party? If not, who are the parties? Also, since she is functioning as only an “independent investigator and nothing more”, will they agree to waive all attorney-client communications? She then offered to send us a portion of the agreement that she unilaterally has determined demonstrates the independence of the investigation. This response simply confirmed my concerns that IHOPKC is in the driver’s seat in a process that they alone have dictated.
The approach IHOPKC is taking is clearly focused on maintaining control and protecting the institution. As one who has been on the front lines of addressing abuse within faith communities for almost 25 years, I can assure you that such an approach is not consistent with best practice standards…nor the standards of Jesus. It is not too late for IHOPKC to change course and begin working with representatives of the reported victims to come up with a process that is genuinely independent and one that ensures that those stepping forward to share their trauma are made to feel comfortable and safe. Until then, it is highly unlikely that reported victims and witnesses will participate in such a fundamentally flawed process.
December 16, 2023
Boz Tchividjian, Esq.
Caleb J. Aponte, Esq.