SEX ALLEGATION PUZZLES LAWYER'S ACQUAINTANCES
Author: Arthur C. Gorlick P-I Reporter
Dateline: PORT ANGELES
Attorney Lane Wolfley says he is perplexed by an allegation of child sex abuse against his friend and former law partner, Ted Ripley.
He and others say the charge against Ripley filed by Prosecuting Attorney David H. Bruneau just doesn't fit the respected Port Angeles lawyer.
Ripley, with his wife, Merrily, has achieved national recognition for adopting 18 children, many of them from Asia and Central America.
Bruneau has charged Ripley with second-degree statutory rape of a blind, 12-year-old Guatemalan girl who has been living in the family home since infancy.
Ripley, through his attorney, David Johnson, has insisted he is innocent. A Port Angeles newspaper has published a statement attributed to him calling allegations against him ''false,'' but saying the couple became aware in 1987 of ''inappropriate sexual behavior'' among some of their children.
The statement says alternative living arrangements were made for the offenders and counseling and therapy was provided.
''There's a dilemma going on here,'' Wolfley says.
''On the one hand, I do have to recognize my respect for Bruneau and the fact that he did charge Ted. But everything tells me that is completely contrary to my knowledge of Ted individually and the family.
''You've got to look at the individual and the individual is a man whose life has been marked with public service, dedication to family and to a worthy profession. And those things would indicate, at least on that level, that he is definitely innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.''
Two of Ted Ripley's adopted sons say that while the sex abuse allegation against their father puzzles them, too, their memories of life in the Ripleys' large home in a rural area south of Port Angeles are bitter ones.
Jason Ripley, 21, says he knows of no sexual abuse in the home, but adds he experienced what he described as ''mental and physical abuse.''
No charges of physical or mental abuse have been filed. But Jason insists that long before the allegations of sexual molestation he reported to three agencies - which he refused to identify - incidents of mental and physical abuse in the home.
''I was crying out for help and nobody believed my story,'' he says. ''I did call three different people at three different agencies and they all said they would get back to me and, well, I'm still waiting.''
Jason was 12 when he came to Port Angeles in 1980 with two brothers and two sisters from their native Costa Rica. Their parents had abandoned them.
Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the New York minister who wrote ''The Power of Positive Thinking,'' celebrated the Ripley family in his 1988 book ''The American Character.''
''To me, it wasn't a family,'' says David Ripley, 19, another of the five who came from Costa Rica to become a Ripley.
''We had a few good years, but after that it started to turn to garbage.'' He says he was kicked, beaten and slammed against a wall, perhaps due to ''frustration because there was too many kids in that house.''
But Wolfley says Ted Ripley exhibited ''super control'' and was ''even- tempered, even in stressful situations,'' during the five years they practiced law together until 1985.
Jason says, ''I don't understand why the government lets this happen. That is too many kids for two persons. The Ripley family was not a family. It was just adopting little puppies . . . To me, it was.''
Jason and David describe a house divided by factions.
There were the parents, Ted and Merrily.
Until her license was suspended this week by the state Department of Social and Health Services, Merrily Ripley operated a non-profit adoption agency, Adoption Advocates International, in a garage behind the family home that has been converted into offices.
Jerry Buzzard, the Olympia attorney representing Merrily Ripley and her adoption agency in the license suspension dispute, believes the state may have acted prematurely against Adoption Advocates International.
He compares accusations against the Ripleys to witchcraft allegations by young girls in Salem, Mass., in 1692 that led to the executions of 19 people.
''Nobody today believes those people were witches,'' Buzzard says, ''but we never seem to learn.''
Other factions formed among the Ripleys' three biological children and groups of adopted children, the two youths say.
''When you have a bunch of kids for so long and you bring in five new ones, they don't combine with the old ones,'' says David. ''They're different. We were way off. We were the rats.''
Many of the Ripley children are adults now, married and scattered throughout the state. Efforts to reach them and others in the home have been unsuccessful.
Along with the charge against Ted Ripley, court documents filed by Bruneau outline what the prosecutor describes as ''a pattern of wanton sexual activity'' in the home.
One of Ripley's adopted Costa Rican-born sons was sentenced in July to six months in a juvenile institution for taking indecent liberties with the girl.
Another adopted son, German-born Kori Ripley, 30 ((age)), has been charged with taking indecent liberties with the same girl and is scheduled to go on trial April 17. He has pleaded not guilty.
And court records filed by Bruneau say that some children in the home tell of sexual abuse by others and that some admit to the abuse.
''When you adopt a lot of children from diverse backgrounds,'' says Wolfley, ''there is not going to be any guarantee that every child is going to walk a perfect path in life. People have to understand that.''
Besides, Wolfley says, the family's problems have nothing to do with the charge by the girl against Ted Ripley.
''I know that they've got problems which are naturally attendant to having 21 kids and parents working and trying to discipline them while facing diverse backgrounds and all that,'' Wolfley says.
''But an allegation of sexual abuse is completely irrelevant to all of those things. No other child, to my knowledge, has alleged abuse on the part of Ted.''
The adopted son convicted of abusing the girl says he had sexual contact with other girls in the home who were not his sisters by blood because living in the home as an adolescent boy was like living in close contact ''with normal girls like you knew at school.''
But he says he believes he was the only one in the home having contact with his adoptive sisters and he can't imagine Ted Ripley could ''do anything like that.''
Wolfley is not alone in questioning or disbelieving the validity of the charge against Ted Ripley.
''It seems sort of strange to hear of an attorney having sex with a kid while the family is in the middle of counseling for that kind of behavior, and knowing the consequences,'' says Dr. Dick Van Calcar, another longtime friend and family doctor.
''It seems strange that he would initiate that kind of behavior that he hasn't done before with a whole raft of little girls who are now all grown up.''
For about 10 years, the Van Calcars and the Ripleys have been among 10 families in a Christian group that meets weekly to pray and discuss the Bible in one another's homes.
Van Calcar also says he is disturbed about public disclosure of the family's problems before any allegations against Ted Ripley have been decided in court.
''It's particularly cruel for the children,'' he says.