Defense lawyers asking for change of venue in case of Williston Catholic school teacher accused of molesting students

Moore

A judge ruled Monday, Sept. 9, that the attorneys for a former Williston Catholic school teacher accused of sexual abuse hadn’t proved that it would be impossible to find a fair jury in Williams County.

Lawyers for Everest Moore, who is accused of inappropriately touching eight students at St. Joseph Catholic School, had asked for a change of venue, claiming many jurors either had personal connections to the case or had written in a jury questionnaire that they believed Moore was guilty. Moore has been charged with eight class A felony counts of gross sexual imposition.

At a short hearing Monday, Jim Martens, one of Moore’s attorneys, argued that if those potential jurors were to be questioned in open court, they could taint the rest of the jury pool.

Robert Bolinske Jr., another lawyer for Moore, said the defense was considering asking to have as many as 30 of the 67 potential jurors excused for cause. Questioning them during the jury selection process could cause problems, he also argued.

“That in and of itself would lead to a process where Mr. Moore wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial,” he said.

Britta Demello Rice, an assistant attorney general prosecuting the case, said the concerns the defense raised about juror prejudice weren’t specific to Williston.

And, she said, the defense’s arguments about many jurors either having some relationship to St. Joseph or one of the parties in the case, as well as the fact many had read news coverage of the case also didn’t rise to the level where a change in venue would be required.

“We’re not going to find people who don’t know the case, and that’s not the standard,” she said.

Demello Rice argued that if there were questions that might reveal a potential juror’s bias, those could be handled in the judge’s chambers instead of in front of the entire panel.

“There are certainly ways to avoid that risk without a change of venue,” she said.

Northwest District Judge Josh Rustad said he didn’t think the defense had proved it would be impossible to find a fair jury in Williams County. None of the pretrial publicity had been highly damaging to Moore, he ruled.

He said lawyers for both sides would have the chance to ask for potential jurors to be dismissed for cause in advance of the trial’s start date, which is Monday, Sept. 23.

Moore was originally arrested in March 2018 and accused of sexually assaulting three students. Five further charges were added later on — two in April and three more in June.

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