LITTLE ROCK — A judge has denied a request for a change of venue in a lawsuit that accuses members of the Tony Alamo Christian Ministries of failing to protect young girls from sexual abuse.
Three defendants in the lawsuit filed the request for the change of venue, citing “persistent and extensive media coverage” of civil and criminal cases related to Alamo and the ministry.
In denying the request Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey noted that the defendants had not alleged the coverage of the cases had been “particularly inflammatory or accusatory.”
The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Texarkana in August 2010 by six women against several ministry members and ministry-affiliated businesses.
Five of the women say they were taken as Alamo’s “wives” at a young age, and one says she escaped before a “marriage” could take place. Another woman who says she is a former wife was added as a seventh plaintiff in December 2010.
Alamo, 77, was convicted in 2009 of taking five of the women across state lines for sex when they were underage and was sentenced to 175 years in prison.
Although some potential jurors may have been exposed to coverage of other cases that involved Alamo, those who harbor prejudice against him can be weeded out during jury selection, she wrote.
The request was filed by attorneys for Steve Johnson, identified in the lawsuit as a member of the church, as well as for the ministry-affiliated businesses Jeanne Estates Apartments Inc. and Advantage Food Group, both based in Fort Smith.
Dennis Chambers of Texarkana, Texas, one of the attorneys for Johnson, said the ruling can’t be appealed until the trial has concluded, and his client hasn’t decided whether to do so. The case is set for trial the week of May 21.