From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Clergy trial clears Seattle pastor of misconduct

Date 23 Feb 2001 13:00:10

Feb. 23, 2001  News media contact: Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

By Tim Tanton
and Tom McAnally*

A United Methodist pastor in Seattle who was accused in a church trial of
criminal conduct says he feels vindicated by the not-guilty verdict that he
received from a jury of clergy peers.

"I feel like I finally was able to get my side out and have it heard," said
the Rev. Dan Sailer, pastor of Haller Lake United Methodist Church in North

The Feb. 6 clergy trial, held at Des Moines (Wash.) United Methodist Church,
cleared Sailer of the charge of committing a crime.

The charge stemmed from his entering an Alford plea last summer in a state
court case, in which he stood accused of giving false testimony in an
earlier state trial. On July 14, he entered an Alford plea to false
swearing, a gross misdemeanor. By entering the plea, he did not admit to
lying under oath but acknowledged there was enough evidence to make a
conviction possible. 

Along with the Alford plea, Sailer said he included a statement that he
believed he was innocent of the perjury charge. After entering the plea, the
state court gave him a one-year deferred sentence and required him to do 240
hours of community service, which he now says he has completed. 

The state case and the church trial are part of a bizarre saga that began in
1996, when Kevin Mooney of Seattle was accused of assaulting Kathryn Frazier
in a store parking lot after she criticized his driving. Sailer, who saw the
incident, was called as a witness in the trial that followed in 1997, and he
testified that he had not known Mooney. After it became known that Mooney
was his roommate, Sailer was accused of perjury.

However, Sailer said he told the truth: He had not known Mooney at the time
of the incident involving Frazier. "I had said all along that when I was
asked if I knew Mr. Mooney, that I was answering those questions at the time
of the incident," he told United Methodist News Service. "I did not know him
on Dec. 9 (1996). Yes, I knew him at the time of trial, but I did not know
him at the time of the incident." 

Sailer describes Mooney as "my roommate." Contrary to at least one published
report, Sailer said he was not involved in any wedding or same-gender union
ceremony with Mooney. "That was total fabrication," he said.

Faced with the perjury charge in last year's trial, Sailer said he entered
the Alford plea because he didn't have the $25,000 to $30,000 that his
defense would have cost. Also, he wanted to end the publicity surrounding
the case, he said. Camera crews were going through his mailbox, he was
receiving death threats, and his house and car had been vandalized, he said.

Frazier filed the original complaint that led to the church trial. The
complaint then went to the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference's
committee on investigation, which brought it forth as a charge for trial.

Sailer said his ex-wife and her husband helped Frazier prepare the
complaint. The couple got involved because Sailer had gained custody of his
two sons, ages 18 and 19, he said. "This was in retaliation."

The complaint stated that Sailer had committed a crime by falsely swearing
in the state court case. 

A second complaint never reached the church trial stage. The conference
investigative committee dismissed it as being without basis in a 7-0 vote,
said Salier, who wouldn't discuss the nature of the complaint. Bishop Elias
Galvan of Seattle confirmed in a Feb. 8 letter to annual conference pastors
that the committee had dismissed one of the complaints.

Bishop Dan Solomon, a retired bishop living in Granbury, Texas, presided
over the trial. He stressed that the chargeable offense in the church's Book
of Discipline refers to "crime" in church law, not crime as determined in
the civil or criminal courts. He made that distinction in response to the
question of why the secular court outcome would not have meant an automatic
guilty verdict in a church court. 

Solomon said "crime" is not defined in the Book of Discipline, and the
presiding officer is prohibited from defining the term. "The 13 jurors are
the only people who can define that term," he said.  

The Feb. 6 church trial was closed to the public. All such trials are closed
under the defendants ask that the proceedings be open. Since the Sailer
trial was closed, Solomon would not reveal details or the number of jurors
who supported the not-guilty verdict. In a United Methodist church trial, 13
clergy members are empaneled as jurors, and at least nine votes are needed
to convict.

The Rev. James V. Heidinger II, executive for Good News, a conservative
caucus within the denomination, said he was "surprised and disappointed"
with the verdict. "It would have made sense to me if the jurors had said,
'We do find him (Sailer) guilty but not of a significant crime, so we don't
think it merits any punishment from us.'"
Even if Sailer were found guilty of the lesser charge of "swearing falsely"
by the secular court, Heidinger said, "It is difficult for me to understand
how he could not have been found guilty of committing a crime. ... It
appears you have a group of pastors looking out for one of their fellow

The Rev. John Grenfell, a former district superintendent and retired
clergyman in the Detroit Annual Conference and a member of the Good News
board, served as an advocate for Frazier, Heidinger said. Grenfell is
involved in many such hearings and cases, Heidinger said. He added that Good
News as an organization had no role in the case other than carrying a story
in its magazine.

"I was very excited about the verdict," Sailer said. "I felt like that was
what it would be if people had a chance to hear both sides. ... It's been a

His congregation at Haller Lake has stood by him, he said. "The church has
been wonderfully supportive. They have seen what has happened and have seen
through the accounts that have been published and how erroneous they were,
and the support of the congregation has been great."

With the trial behind him, Sailer said he is considering pursuing a
defamation of character case against people who were involved in bringing
the complaints. 

# # #

*McAnally is director and Tanton is news editor for United Methodist News
Service, the official news agency of the United Methodist Church.

United Methodist News Service
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