By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — A former youth church leader was sentenced to two months in jail Thursday for his involvement with a teenage girl.
James Lim earlier this year pleaded guilty to communicating with a minor for immoral purposes, a felony. Prosecutors alleged that Lim, then 24, convinced a 17-year-old to expose herself while they video chatted online.
The girl had known Lim since she was a child through her involvement with the Zion Presbyterian Church in Shoreline.
The lead pastor told detectives that the defendant was of “considerable influence and leadership” at the church as a Bible study leader for the youth groups. He also chaperoned the church’s youth mission trips to Jamaica in 2010.
Prosecutors initially charged the Lynnwood man with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor and second-degree possession of child pornography. They alleged that Lim had abused his “supervisory position” in order to engage in a sexual relationship with the teen during 2010 and 2011.
In general, the legal age of consensual sex in Washington is 16. Prosecutors contended that Lim was legally prohibited from having sex with the teen because of his job at the church.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Andrew Alsdorf in August reduced the charges against Lim after the defense provided evidence showing that Lim had left his position as a leader in the church by the time he and the teen were having a sexual relationship.
“It would have been a difficult argument to make if there was no longer a teacher-mentor relationship,” Alsdorf said.
The deputy prosecutor, however, argued Thursday that the judge should consider that Lim was once in a position of trust and likely had groomed the girl for years.
“He cultivated a sexual relationship …. with someone he shouldn’t have,” Alsdorf said.
He asked the judge to sentence Lim to three months in jail, the maximum under the state’s sentencing guidelines.
Defense attorney Jesse Cantor asked that his client not spend any time in jail. He argued that Lim and the teen had a consensual sexual relationship. His client didn’t groom or pressure the teen, Cantor said.
“He does not pose a threat to anyone,” the defense attorney said. “There’s nothing predatory about this case.”
In asking for a sentence below the standard range, Cantor pointed out that the law is inconsistent. His client was allowed to have a legal sexual relationship with a 17-year-old, but it was against the law for the girl to expose herself to him during online private chats.
“If it had not been for the Skype session, Mr. Lim would not have been convicted of any crime,” Cantor said.
Superior Court Judge David Kurtz agreed that Lim could serve his sentence on work release. The judge acknowledged that Lim didn’t have any prior criminal history and had many in the community who support him and vouched for his character.
The judge, however, questioned whether the defendant continued to rationalize or even minimize his conduct. Kurtz also said it was appropriate to consider the relationship the two had before Lim left his position at the church.
“He utilized the relationship of trust that he fostered between himself and a minor to ultimately help him accomplish this crime,” Kurtz said.
Lim will be required to register as a sex offender for a decade. He also must undergo a sexual deviancy evaluation.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.