Consent a key issue in sex case

November 27, 1994|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Sun Staff Writer

A Columbia woman who claims in a lawsuit that a Lutheran pastor manipulated her into having a sexual relationship should not have to inform his lawyers whether she consented to his alleged advances, her attorney said Friday.

John Condliffe, a Hyattsville lawyer for the woman, argued during a Howard Circuit Court hearing that the consent issue is one of the most important aspects of the suit and shouldn't be addressed until the case goes to trial.

"This [issue] is the very case," Mr. Condliffe said. "If I narrow it down now, I may not have a case."

The issue was one of several points raised during the hearing, which was held to determine what information the plaintiff must provide defense lawyers before the suit goes to trial.

In the suit, Susan Romanic is seeking $156 million in damages from the Rev. Rodney Ronneberg, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Fulton. The suit also names St. Paul's, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and its Delaware-Maryland Synod as defendants.

Ms. Romanic, who initially filed the suit anonymously, has withdrawn her request for a protective order sealing her identity and is now permitting her name to be used during public court proceedings.

Attorneys for Mr. Ronneberg, St. Paul's and the Lutheran Church asked Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr. to require Ms. Romanic to provide them with an array of information and evidence to help them prepare their case.

The requested information ranges from Ms. Romanic's knowledge of the Sixth Commandment prohibiting adultery to her definition of the phrase "sexual relations."

The defense attorneys also want to know whether Ms. Romanic discussed the alleged incidents with her former husband. Ms. Romanic was married at the time, but has since divorced.

In addition, the lawyers are seeking reports on a sexual harassment claim Ms. Romanic had filed against a former employer as well as a report on an alleged date rape the woman had filed with the Howard County Sexual Assault Center.

William Parler Jr., a Baltimore attorney for the church, said he wants the records to show that Ms. Romanic has a pattern of filing reports alleging sexual incidents.

"We think those records are vital to us in the defense of this case," Mr. Parler said.

Judge Sybert did not say when he will issue a ruling on the defense attorneys' requests for information. A trial date for the case has not been scheduled.

The suit, filed in March, claims Mr. Ronneberg -- who is married -- had several sexual encounters with Ms. Romanic between May 1992 and February 1993. Some of the encounters are alleged to have occurred at St. Paul's.

Mr. Ronneberg has filed a $10 million counter suit against Ms. Romanic, claiming that her allegations have defamed him. He denies that he and the woman had a sexual relationship.

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