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Texas law says it's too late for pastor Robert Morris' alleged victim to file a civil claim. One lawyer wants to change that.

North Texas victims' rights attorney fighting to change statute of limitations for exploited women
North Texas victims' rights attorney fighting to change statute of limitations for exploited women 02:20

NORTH TEXAS — Former Gateway Church pastor Robert Morris resigned after sexual abuse allegations. Now, questions have surfaced about why there's no chance of civil liability. It's something that has one local victims' rights attorney taking action. And she said she won't stop until there's reform. 

It took Cindy Clemishire more than 40 years to publicly accuse Robert Morris of sexually assaulting her, repeatedly abusing her since she was 12 years old, Clemishire said. 

Morris is the founder and now former senior pastor of Gateway Church. Based out of Southlake, it's one of the largest multi-site churches in the country.  

"There's so many reasons why victims of trauma take a long time," New Friends New Life CEO Bianca Davis said. She serves women and girls who've been trafficked and exploited.  

"I think it's important to note the impact of spiritual abuse," she said. "You have someone who is in a position of religious authority. They are revered by their congregations. They seem to have all the answers. It really toys with that person's sense of belonging and faith."

Michelle Simpson Tuegel, an attorney who specializes in victims' rights, said Clemishire will not be able to pursue civil claims against the church or her alleged abuser because it's too late under the statute of limitations in Texas and Oklahoma, where the victim said the abuse took place.

"In Texas, the statute of limitations now, as it stands in 2024, is that you have 30 years to file a civil sexual abuse claim if it happened when you were under the age of 18," she said. "That law only went into effect in 2019." 

She said Texas and Oklahoma have not passed what's called a "revival window" or retroactive statute of limitations, meaning Clemishire's window would be much smaller. 

"It depends on what their date of birth is and when their abuse happened," she said. "This was in the 1980s, so back then a two-year statute of limitations would arguably have applied."

She's been working to change that and said several other states already have. 

"We were at the Legislature last legislative session with a group of survivors trying to even get a hearing on it and we cannot get a hearing on the issue," she said. 

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