By MATT MILNER
Iowa’s Court of Appeals has granted Patrick Edouard a new trial, saying the district court erred.
Edouard was pastor of Covenant Reformed Church in Pella. Four female members of the congregation accused Edouard of engaging in sexual acts with them while counseling them. He was charged with three counts of third-degree sexual abuse, four counts of sexual exploitation by a counselor, and one count of engaging in a pattern, practice, or scheme to engage in sexual exploitation.
Edouard’s defense said he was not a “counselor or therapist,” providing mental health services, and thus could not be guilty of the exploitation charges. He admitted to engaging in sexual conduct with the women.
Jurors acquitted Edouard of sexual abuse, but found him guilty on the remaining charges.
Iowa law defines a counselor or therapist as anyone “who provides or purports to provide mental health services.” That can include members of the clergy. But critical terms in the law are undefined, including “treatment,” “assessment,” and “counseling.”
A previous ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court held that “strictly personal relationships involving the informal exchange of advice,” did not constitute the counseling role needed for the charge. The district court didn’t include the definition of counseling from that decision in jury instructions, though, and the appeals court says that was a mistake that abused the district court’s discretion.
The ruling reads, in part:
“[W]e agree with Edouard that he suffered prejudice as a result of the court’s failure to include the Gonzalez definition of ‘counseling’ in the jury instruction defining ‘mental health services.’ Edouard’s entire defense was premised on the fact that he could not be convicted of sexual exploitation because his actions did not meet the definition of ‘counseling.’”
The appeals court continues, saying the district court erred in barring one of Edouard’s expert witnesses from testifying. That opens the door for an additional defense witness in the retrial.