A former Episcopal priest pleaded no contest Tuesday to charges that he sexually molested two teen-age boys who attended the Palmdale church where he served as vicar.
Under a plea bargain presented in Antelope Municipal Court, Robert L. Ducker, 63, pleaded no contest--the equivalent of guilty--to three counts of lewd conduct with a child. He faces up to 12 years in state prison at his sentencing on May 24.
Ducker, who resigned his post at Christ the King Mission in Palmdale at the time of his arrest in March, had been charged with 10 counts of sexual misconduct with children. He faced up to 20 years in prison if he had been convicted by a jury after a trial, Deputy Dist. Atty. John A. Portillo said.
Portillo said he was satisfied with the agreement. "It eliminated the uncertainty" associated with a trial, he said. "He can't be acquitted. The time he's facing is appropriate for a person of his background and the conduct in which he engaged."
Judge Chesley N. McKay Jr. ordered Ducker to return to Los Angeles County Jail, in lieu of $100,000 bail, to await sentencing.
Ducker had served as vicar at the Palmdale church since 1991.
Investigators alleged that he befriended the two youths, who are now 15, and molested them over the last two years. An older brother of one boy learned about the incidents and informed his mother, who contacted authorities in March.
Under the plea bargain, Ducker agreed to cooperate with a sheriff's child abuse investigator concerning other possible offenders.
Deputy Public Defender Roy Wallen said his client agreed to the plea agreement partly to spare the boys the trauma of testifying.
"He didn't want to harm or inconvenience the boys involved," Wallen said. "He's expressed remorse concerning the incidents. It was appropriate to resolve the case."
Wallen said he will argue that Ducker be sentenced to less than 12 years. "I think 3 1/2 decades of service to his church and the community will be of value," the defense attorney said.
The two boys and other family members were in court Tuesday, prepared to testify if the plea agreement had not been reached.
The family members declined to comment after the hearing. Their attorney, Sydney Kulchin of Encino said, "They're still numb about it."
Kulchin said his firm had filed a lawsuit this week in Los Angeles against Ducker and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. He said the suit charges the church with negligence and misconduct in the hiring and training of Ducker and seeks unspecified damages.
Diocese representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But after Ducker's arrest, spokesman Robert Williams said the diocese had offered counseling and other support to the families involved in the case and to other members of the Palmdale church.
Williams said at the time that Ducker, like all other diocese priests, had attended a seminar on clerical sexual misconduct.