Ruling Clears Way for Appeal : New ‘Clergy Malpractice’ Trial Denied

Times Staff Writer

A Glendale Superior Court judge on Wednesday refused to grant a new trial for Walter and Maria Nally in their “clergy malpractice” lawsuit against Grace Community Church of the Valley in Sun Valley.

Following the denial of a new trial by Judge Joseph R. Kalin, the Nally family’s attorney, Edward Barker, filed an appeal with the state Court of Appeal. Barker said a ruling from the appeal court may take two years.

Kalin dismissed the family’s suit in mid-trial on May 16. The request for a new trial was a routine motion required before an appeal.

The Nallys had alleged that four pastors at the church contributed to the 1979 suicide of their 24-year-old son, Kenneth, by providing incompetent counseling and failing to send him to a psychiatrist.


Kalin dismissed the suit during the trial’s fourth week, ruling that any judicial effort to regulate pastoral counseling would violate the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state.

Attorney Claims Five Errors

Barker argued unsuccessfully Wednesday that the judge had erred in five areas when he dismissed the suit. Barker asserted that three pieces of evidence that Kalin had ruled inadmissible should have been allowed in the trial, including a tape recording of a lecture delivered by a church pastor to seminary students in which the pastor said that suicide does not prevent a believer from going to heaven.

Barker said the case should not have been dismissed on First Amendment grounds because the Nallys were not challenging the church’s religious beliefs. Barker argued that he had presented sufficient evidence during the trial to show that the pastors were untrained in mental-health matters, and therefore negligent in failing to refer Kenneth Nally to better-trained professionals.


But Kalin said Barker had failed during the trial to prove that the pastors breached any established duty or that any action or inaction by the church caused Nally’s death.