In 2016, former Harris County GOP chair Jared Woodfill received an urgent warning about Paul Pressler, his longtime law partner and a Southern Baptist leader. In an email, a 25-year-old attorney from Woodfill’s Houston firm said he’d recently gone to lunch with Pressler, who told him “lewd stories about being naked on beaches with young men” and then invited him to skinny-dip at his ranch.
Woodfill — an outspoken anti-gay politician and prominent conservative activist who’d just played a key role defeating an equal rights ordinance for LGBTQ Houstonians — responded to the young man’s request for help with shock and indignation. “This 85-year-old man has never made any inappropriate comments or actions toward me or any one I know of,” he wrote of Pressler at the time.
But new court records show that wasn’t true.
In recent sworn testimony, Woodfill said he’d known since 2004 of an allegation that Pressler had sexually abused a child. Woodfill learned of those claims, he said, during mediation of an assault lawsuit filed against Pressler that he helped quietly settle for nearly a half-million dollars at the time. Despite his knowledge of the accusation, Woodfill continued to work with Pressler for nearly a decade — leaning on Pressler’s name and reputation to bolster their firm, Woodfill & Pressler LLP.
Rather than pay him a salary, Woodfill testified, the firm provided Pressler a string of employees to serve as personal assistants, most of them young men who typically worked out of his River Oaks mansion. Two have accused Pressler of sexual assault or misconduct.
Woodfill led the Harris County Republican Party from 2002 to 2014 and has for years been at the helm of anti-LGBTQ and other hardline conservative movements in Houston and Texas. In 2015, amid tense debate over a Houston equal rights ordinance that would have made LGBTQ workplace discrimination illegal, he and well-known GOP power broker Steven Hotze co-led a campaign that, among other things, said the measure would allow children to be sexually groomed and abused in bathrooms, paid for hundreds of thousands of dollars in opposition advertisements and compared the gay rights movement to Nazis.
Since then, Woodfill has remained a fixture in Texas GOP politics: During the height of the pandemic, he and Hotze filed numerous lawsuits challenging COVID-19 mandates, and he’s currently representing conservative political candidates challenging the 2022 election results in Harris County. Woodfill is also representing Hotze in a criminal investigation stemming from a 2020 incident in which a private investigator, allegedly acting at Hotze’s behest, held at gunpoint an A/C repairman who he believed was transporting fake ballots.
Released over the last few weeks, the thousands of pages of new court records show how Woodfill leaned on his Pressler connections to bolster his political and legal career — despite warnings about his law partner’s behavior. And they shed new light on how Pressler, a former Texas Court of Appeals judge and one-time White House nominee under George H.W. Bush, allegedly used his prestige and influence to evade responsibility amid repeated accusations of sexual misconduct and assault dating back to at least 1978, when he was forced out of a Houston church for allegedly molesting a teenager in a sauna.
Pressler is best known for his work in the Southern Baptist Convention, where he was instrumental in pushing its 16 million members and 47,000 churches to adopt literal interpretations of the Bible, strongly denounce homosexuality and align more closely with the Republican Party. And for decades, he was a high-ranking member of the Council for National Policy, an uber-secretive network of conservative judges, mega donors, media figures and religious elites led by Tony Perkins, head of the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council.
The new records show that in 2004, leaders of First Baptist Church of Houston, a massive Southern Baptist congregation, investigated claims that Pressler, then a deacon, had groped and undressed a college student at his Houston mansion. The church leaders deemed the behavior “morally and spiritually” inappropriate and warned Pressler but took no further action, citing differing accounts of the incident and Pressler’s stature in their church and the Southern Baptist Convention. In recent depositions, plaintiffs attorneys also briefly mention new complaints from two others about Pressler, though those documents remain sealed ahead of the looming civil trial in the case.
At least six men have now accused Pressler of sexual assault or misconduct, including two who say they were molested while minors and two who say they were solicited for sex in incidents after 2004, when Woodfill and First Baptist leaders were separately made aware of complaints about Pressler.
Pressler has not been criminally charged in any of the incidents. Neither Woodfill nor his attorney responded to a list of questions about Woodfill’s handling of the allegations against Pressler. In a Wednesday email, Woodfill’s lawyer David Oubre said they are “confident Mr. Woodfill will be successful in defeating these claims.”
See here for previous mentions of Paul Pressler. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you already know that I consider pond scum to be a higher form of life than Jared Woodfill. If you didn’t already know that, now you know why. My homework assignment for legislative Democrats is to make sure you mention the names Jared Woodfill and Paul Pressler every time someone disparages LBGTQ folks in a hearing. It won’t change anything, but it will make them mad and it will help spread the word. Go read the rest of the article.