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Trial of ex-Lake George clergyman begins next week

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As trial nears for a former Lake George lay minister charged with a litany of sex crimes, the role of the pastor who replaced him has become an issue in the case of Darwin F. Schauer.

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Schauer, formerly a minister at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake George, retired from the church in 2008 and was replaced by Don Kirchner, an attorney and pastor.

Schauer, 71, is charged with 15 counts of criminal sexual conduct involving a teenager. The acts allegedly occurred the year after he retired from Trinity. He has been jailed since April in Hubbard County on $1 million unconditional bond.

Trial is set for Nov. 27 in Hubbard County.

Monday at a pre-trial hearing, defense attorney Tom Kuesel asked that Kirchner's testimony be limited.

Kuesel said at times Kirchner has acted as "Schauer's attorney and as his minister.

"He went to the jail to confront him," Kuesel said of Kirchner. "He said he felt betrayed by Schauer."

Kuesel told Judge Paul Rasmussen Kirchner was both a "family attorney to Schauer and a pastor."

Communications between a pastor and a parishioner, or between an attorney and a client, are considered privileged and cannot be divulged in court.

But Kuesel said "the privilege is held by Schauer," not Kirchner, so without Schauer's permission, Kirchner could not testify about conversations the two men had after Schauer's arrest and the visits Kirchner made to Schauer in jail.

"At the very least, he's playing very loosely with his ethical and professional obligations," Kuesel said of Kirchner.

"Kirchner clearly informed Schauer that he was not there as an attorney or pastor," prosecutor Erika Randall said, adding that the defendant knew Kirchner was not representing him in any capacity.

Rasmussen said he would take the matter under advisement. Kirchner said Monday night it was "hard to comment when he had not seen the motion."

As of press time Friday, no ruling had been issued. The courthouse was closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.

Schauer's arrest came after a complaint was filed March 4 with the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office and an investigation was launched. The complaint came via Don Kirchner, who reported the incident that led to Schauer's arrest.

At the time of that arrest, Kirchner issued a statement saying: "The congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lake George is devastated by this terrible news. I've seen and shared in the members' emotions that have moved from shock, to tears of grief, even to anger, and to a certain hope that justice will be done. But most of all and most importantly, our hearts and prayers go out to the young victim of these horrific acts..."

Kirchner subsequently contributed to an Internet blog run by the diocese when it was learned Schauer had a criminal history that included similar behavior in 1983.

Kirchner questioned some of the church's actions on the blog, which was later pulled down. The pastor admitted having a "testy exchange" with a church official over Schauer.

Trial is expected to take three or four days.

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Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers Hubbard County, courts and breaking news.

(218) 732-3364
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