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Lawsuit Against Former Pastors, Church For Life Alleges Sexual Harassment, Assault

A Santa Maria church and the married couple that served as its lead pastors have been named as defendants in a civil lawsuit alleging Robert Litzinger employed a pattern of sexual harassment and assault against a young woman.

The lawsuit filed in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in July named Church for Life, Litzinger, and Cindy Litzinger as defendants, with the woman making the allegations referred to as Jane Doe in court documents.

“This lawsuit concerns a multi-year patten of sexual harassment, sexual battery, sexual assault and gender violence practiced by defendant Litzinger upon the young women parishioners of defendant Church For Life,” according to the first amended complaint filed by attorney Jordan Porter of Santa Barbara.

Attorneys representing the Litzingers and the church denied the allegations and cited a number of defenses.

As lead pastor, Litzinger used his role to satisfy his “sexual fetishes,” the complaint alleges, contending his wife aided and abetted in excusing and protecting the conduct.

Litzinger co-founded the non-denominational church located on Skyway Drive with his wife, a fellow lead pastor. They were ousted from their duties in June 2016 when an official told a reporter from KCOY/KEYT/KKFX they entered “a restoration process” and stepped down from church leadership indefinitely.

Around the same time, he also resigned from his appointed position as a Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Commission member.

Jane Doe, a fictitous name to preserve her privacy, her attorney said, is seeking monetary and punitive damages totaling more than $25,000 in the lawsuit alleging sexual battery, sexual harassment, sexual assault, gender violence and negligence.

The lawsuit alleges church officials “turned a blind eye toward defendant Litzinger’s teachings in its ‘purity’ classes and pre-marriage courses for years." 

Litzinger allegedly sought and sent intimate photos to the plaintiff, persisting when she hesitated, and pushed for information about her sexual relations with her husband. Litzinger's pictures became increasingly graphic, the lawsuit added.

At one point, he sent pictures of himself and his wife covered in bed with a note that “they just had a great session.”

During home meetings, he would give what the plaintiff called “Mom and Dad snuggles,” and “Dad back rubs” while praying, the lawsuit contends.

However, the plaintiff alleges Litzinger pushed boundaries, eventually groping her breasts and genitals.

She complained to Cindy Litzinger, who called the alleged incidents “an innocent mistake.”

"Nevertheless, (Robert) Litzinger’s conduct continued, and each time plaintiff found herself frozen in shock, confusion, fear and disbelief,” the complaint said. 

When the married woman became pregnant, Litzinger pressed for a nude photo like those involving celebrities in Vanity Fair where the private areas are covered but the pregnancy bump is emphasized.

“Litzinger then told plaintiff he had looked at one of her photos to help him ‘finish,” the complaint said. “Plantiff was shocked, confronted Litzinger about lusting after her, but LItzinger denied on the basis of the strength of his Christian belief.”

In March 2016, Litzinger shared his favorable views of pornography in a pre-marital counseling class, sparking an investigation by the church, the complaint noted.

This led Jane Doe to discover that she was not alone in complaints against Litzinger, and that more than a dozen women had similar experiences. 

The conduct led Jane Doe to suffer humiliation, stress, depression and other mental harm so she seeks compensatory and punitive damages in addition to court costs, the lawsuit noted.

In a response to the complaint, Litzinger’s attorney, Paul Greco, denied the allegations, citing 16 defenses including bad faith and consent.

“Plaintiff’s claims, and each of them, are barred by the fact that they are frivolous, designed to harass and annoy defendant, and are not brought in good faith,” the answer said. 

His response also contends the woman consented to the alleged conduct involving Litzinger. 

Litzinger is seeking to recover his attorney’s fees. 

Church For Life’s attorneys, James Hayes from Daley & Heft of Solana Beach, also denied the allegations.

The church contends Jane Doe shares some of the blame. The attorney asked if the church is found negligent, she also should be assessed a degree of fault, with any monetary award reduced appropriately.

Cindy Litzinger’s attorney, Matthew Volkman from Severson & Werson of San Francisco, attempted to get her removed from facing punitive and exemplary damages, saying the facts were insufficient to show she engaged in the conduct alleged in the lawsuit.

However, the judge denied the motion filed by her attorney. 

The case returns to Judge Timothy Staffel’s courtroom in May.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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