Family Takes Suit Over Suicide to High Court

A Tujunga couple who contend in a lawsuit that a Sun Valley church is guilty of "clergy malpractice" in the 1979 suicide of their son have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear their case, an attorney said Wednesday.

Allen P. Wilkinson, attorney for Walter and Maria Nally, said a petition was filed Tuesday asking the Supreme Court to review the suit, the claims of which were rejected by the state Supreme Court in November. Wilkinson said he and the Nallys are confident the court will hear the case "because of the magnitude of the First Amendment issues."

The family maintains that Grace Community Church pastors, who were providing Kenneth Nally, 24, with spiritual counseling for his depression, should be held liable for his suicide. But the state Supreme Court ruled Nov. 27 that church pastors should be "free from state-imposed counseling standards."

Wilkinson said the constitutional right of religious freedom should not protect a church and its pastors from responsibility in counseling members.

David A. Cooksey, an attorney for Grace Community, said that he had not seen the petition but that the case involves state and not federal issues. "I don't know what the federal basis of this would be," he said.

Kenneth Nally, a former high school honors student, shot himself to death in March, 1979, after several years of counseling at the fundamentalist church, which has the largest Protestant congregation in Los Angeles County.

The Nallys have charged that four pastoral counselors at the church were negligent in failing to refer their depressed son to licensed psychotherapists.

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