3 men now accuse 87-year-old former Texas judge, Baptist leader of sexual misconduct

Former Judge Paul Pressler, who played a leading role in wresting control of the Southern Baptist Convention from moderates in 1979, poses for a photo in his home in Houston May 30, 2004.
Former Judge Paul Pressler, who played a leading role in wresting control of the Southern Baptist Convention from moderates in 1979, poses for a photo in his home in Houston May 30, 2004. Associated Press

A former Texas judge and prominent figure in the Southern Baptist Convention with a history of sexual misconduct dating back to the 1970s was still actively harassing younger men as recently as 2016, according to affidavits filed by two new accusers this month in the case against 87-year-old Paul Pressler.

Duane Rollins filed the initial lawsuit against Paul Pressler, 87, in October 2017, accusing his former Bible study teacher of sexually assaulting him several times a month over a period starting in the late 1970s, which became less frequent through the mid-1980s.

One of the former appellate judge’s accusers, Toby Twining, 59, says Pressler led him into a sauna at his ranch, a frequent site of Pressler’s Christian “men’s retreats,” and grabbed his privates.

But the other, Brooks Schott, suggests that Pressler may have been harassing younger men as recently as 2016. Schott, 27, accuses Pressler of inviting him into a hot tub naked with Pressler when he was employed at Pressler’s former law firm.

Pressler “generally and categorically” denied the allegations brought by Rollins, according to church documents. His lawyer told Baptist News that the suit’s claims cannot be taken seriously.

Pressler has not been charged by authorities.

Pressler served in the Texas state house from 1957-59, is a former justice on the 14th Court of Appeals and came to prominence in the Southern Baptist Convention after working at Houston’s First Baptist and Second Baptist churches, when the Southern Baptist Convention moved toward a more literal interpretation of the Bible and more strongly condemned homosexual behavior, according to the Houston Chronicle, which first reported the latest accusations. He was asked in 1989 to head President George H.W. Bush’s Office of Government Ethics, but that nomination was later withdrawn.

Twining’s and Schott’s affidavits were submitted this month as part of Rollins’ suit against Pressler and eight other defendants, including the Southern Baptist Convention, Pressler’s wife, and Houston’s First and Second Baptist Churches, where Pressler served as a youth minister.

According to Twining’s affidavit, he was in a youth group under Pressler’s guidance at a Presbyterian church in Houston when he was 16 or 17, the same time Pressler was also a prominent state judge.

Former Judge Paul Pressler, who played a leading role in wresting control of the Southern Baptist Convention from moderates in 1979, poses for a photo in his home in Houston May 30, 2004. Michael Stravato Associated Press

“Pressler told me there was a shortage of beds and asked if I would mind sharing a bunk with him,” 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.”

But in light of what he says occurred on an August night 2-3 years later in 1977, Twining said he believes Pressler had designs on him during that first men’s retreat. It was then in 1977, Twining says, that Pressler invited him into a sauna at River Oaks Country Club alone with him, an activity usually undertaken in a group setting among Pressler and youth group members.

“Pressler and I entered the steam sauna 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 his hand back quickly.”

Schott, who in 2016 worked at Woodfill Law Firm, wrote in his affidavit he was approached by Pressler, a former partner of Schott’s boss Jared Woodfill, another of the eight defendants in the case, for a lunch meeting.

“[Woodfill] told me that Pressler was ‘a hero of the faith’ and a ‘great man,’” Schott wrote. “At lunch, Pressler told me about his ranch and all of its amenities including a ten person hot tub. Pressler then told me that ‘when the ladies are not around, us boys all go in the hot tub completely naked.’ He then invited me to go naked hot tubbing with him at his ranch. This invitation was clearly made in anticipation that I would engage in sexual activity with him on the pretext of a hot tub experience. It was clearly a solicitation.”

Schott resigned from the firm in 2017 as a result of the incident.

The Chronicle reported that a January 2017 letter that was made public as part of Rollins’ lawsuit, an attorney for Bethel Church, Frank Somerville, confirmed that the church “received information about an alleged incident involving Mr. Pressler in 1978.” While Twining’s affidavit does not name the Presbyterian church the “men’s retreats” were associated with, Pressler was a youth pastor at Bethel at the time.

Pressler left Bethel in 1979, according to his memoir, “A HIll on Which to Die,” in favor of ministering to Southern Baptists.

According to the Baptist Press, Frank S. Page, the former president and chief executive of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee, resigned in March from the top role in the largest Protestant denomination in America because of a “morally inappropriate” relationship.