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RCC board chief must pay stepson in abuse case

The president of the Rogue Community College board of directors has been ordered to pay &

36;140,000 for sexually abusing her stepson nearly 30 years ago, but RCC officials said Monday it won't affect her status.

This is a private civic matter between Denise Miller and her family, said Margaret Bradford, director of college communications.

A Jackson County Circuit Court jury last week ordered Miller, 65, of Ashland, to compensate Gregory Miller for abuse he suffered as a teenager.

Gregory Miller, now 44 and living in Gold Beach, sought more than &

36;760,000 for damages he said he suffered when Denise Miller sexually abused him between the ages of 15 and 18.

No criminal charges were filed, however.

Voting 10-2, the jury awarded Gregory Miller &

36;50,000 in economic damages and &

36;90,000 in non-economic damages, court records show.

Gregory Miller's lawyer, Michael Dwyer of Portland, said Miller would have preferred a higher award, but that the point of the civil lawsuit was to clear his name and make a statement.

Our most important goal was unburdening him of the shame that has haunted him since childhood, he said.

But Denise Miller's lawyer, Tom Howser of Ashland, said the reduced amount of the award reflected ambivalence in the jury.

I'm not so sure they thought anything serious happened, Howser said. If they were really mad at Denise Miller, they would have dumped on her for the full amount.

In the civil lawsuit filed in September 2000, Gregory Miller claimed his stepmother acted in a seductive manner toward him starting in the mid-1970s, when he was as young as 10, and began forcing him to perform mutual sexual acts by age 15.

Denise Miller, who is married to Gregory Miller's father, Robert, denied the allegations. She did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Denise Miller is a real estate broker in Ashland with a long history of community involvement. She was first appointed to the RCC board in 1999; her term expires this summer.

News of the jury award surprised RCC board members, several of whom said they continued to regard Denise Miller as an effective community leader.

As far as I'm concerned, her position on the board has nothing to do with it, said member David Trump of Grants Pass. She's done a good job on the board as long as I've been there, she runs a good meeting and she gets it done right.

Dean Wendle, another board member, also expressed support.

Denise is a very nice lady and I have high regard for her personally, he said. She's been loyal to RCC and she's done her job there.

The civil case was particularly contentious, representatives from both sides said. Gregory Miller originally demanded &

36;120,000 from Denise Miller and filed the lawsuit only after she refused to pay, Dwyer said.

In addition, Gregory Miller admitted during the trial that he sexually abused Denise Miller's two daughters, who were a decade younger, his lawyer said. Gregory Miller also said he had sexual contact with an older half-sister.

He took full responsibility for those actions, Dwyer said.

Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at 776-4465, or e-mail