MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The daughter of a jogger killed in a drunken crash is suing a University of Wisconsin-Madison adviser who counseled her, alleging that he never told her he had texted with the driver who hit her mother before the crash and used their relationship to learn about the case.
The lawsuit alleges adviser Tori Richardson was texting with Lutheran Bishop Bruce Burnside before Burnside struck and killed Maureen Mengelt in April 2013. The lawsuit, filed April 5, contends Richardson offered to counsel Mengelt’s daughter Megan four days after the crash in an attempt to gain information about Burnside’s prosecution, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The lawsuit alleges Richardson, the assistant dean of UW-Madison’s College of Letters and Sciences, didn’t tell Megan Mengelt in his email after the crash that he’d been texting with Burnside. The two developed a counseling relationship, which Richardson used to glean information about Burnside’s prosecution and a potential civil lawsuit against him.
She didn’t learn of the texting until January 2015, causing her “severe and permanent emotional distress,” according to the lawsuit.
Burnside was bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America and was on his way to a sermon when he struck Maureen Mengelt in Sun Prairie. He pleaded guilty in May 2014 to second-degree reckless homicide and drunken driving and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
After the criminal case wrapped up, the Mengelt family sued Burnside, the ELCA, the synod and their insurers. That case is still pending.
In a deposition related to that lawsuit, Richardson testified that he had met Burnside days before the crash at a birthday party. During the text exchange, Richardson scolded Burnside for texting while driving.
Richardson said during the deposition that he asked his boss, Letters and Science undergraduate services director Christopher Lee, whether it would be appropriate for him to reach out to Megan Mengelt. He didn’t tell Lee or Mengelt that he had been texting with Burnside before the crash and never considered the emotional consequences for Megan Mengelt if she found out.
UW spokesman John Lucas told the newspaper that university officials first learned of some of the allegations in Megan Menglet’s lawsuit late last year. An outside investigator found no evidence that Richardson inappropriately shared student records but he was still suspended for 30 days without pay for failing to meet professional standards.
Burnside testified during the deposition that Richardson visited him several times after the crash but barely mentioned the Mengelts or any information he had learned from Megan Mengelt.
A spokesman for the state Justice Department, which is representing Richardson, didn’t respond to a message.