Ben Zobrist, the former Chicago Cubs utility player and 2016 World Series MVP, has filed a lawsuit accusing his former minister of having a sexual relationship with his wife Julianna and defrauding Zobrist’s charity foundation.
The lawsuit against Byron Yawn, CEO of the Nashville-area counseling firm Forrest Crain and Co., seeks $6 million in punitive and compensatory damages through a jury trial.
According to the complaint filed May 6 in Nashville Circuit Court, Yawn, while acting as the Zobrists’ marital counselor and executive director of Ben Zobrist’s charity, “usurped the ministerial-counselor role, violated and betrayed the confidence entrusted to him by the plaintiff, breached his fiduciary duty owed to the plaintiff and deceitfully used his access as counselor to engage in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the plaintiff’s wife.”
Yawn’s attorney, Christopher Bellamy of Nashville-based Neal and Harwell, told the Tribune Monday: “At the end of the day, a woman has the right to choose who she wants to be with. We’re in the middle of litigation, so I can’t really comment further at this point, but that’s what it boils down to.”
He added, ”My client deserves his day in court and for the truth to be heard, and so we’re going to do that through the court process.”
The Zobrists began attending Community Bible Church in Nashville in 2005, where Yawn had been the senior pastor for about 20 years, according to the lawsuit.
Yawn served as the couples’ pre-marital counselor in December 2005.
“In addition, they later accepted the defendant’s invitation to officiate the public dedication of their three infant children,” according to the lawsuit.
Ben Zobrist started counseling sessions with Yawn in 2007, and again in 2016 and ’17 when Zobrist was experiencing anxiety and depression, the suit states.
According to the suit, Yawn began having daily conversations with Julianna in August 2018, then “began secretly pursuing an intimate relationship with Mr. Zobrist’s wife” the following month.
Yawn was working for Ben Zobrist’s charity at the time, and a proposed budget included a $36,000 annual salary for Yawn. Over the next several months, Yawn and Julianna began working closely to develop the charity’s social media presence, the lawsuit says.
“(His) romantic involvement with Ms. Zobrist escalated in the spring of 2019, when he began meeting her for sex,” the suit states.
Ben Zobrist contends in the lawsuit that Julianna and Yawn, still serving as a counselor, continued their relationship in spring 2020 and kept it secret by using “burner phones.”
Zobrist had an “excused absence” to miss part of Cubs spring training in February 2019.
According to the lawsuit, Zobrist explained during a Feb. 20 text exchange with Yawn why he couldn’t go to Mesa, Ariz., for spring training.
“Was hoping to be at spring training but can’t leave yet. You should know that Jules told me she has spoken with a divorce lawyer twice,” Zobrist wrote. “I care too much about my marriage and family to be away during such a critical time.”
Yawn, according to the suit, responded, “That’s heavy friend. Yawns love you and your family. Whatever you need. Whatever you need to do. Grace.”
In May 2019, according to the lawsuit, Yawn’s wife discovered his burner phone and contacted Ben Zobrist the next day to tell him about what she believed was an emotional affair.
Ben and Julianna Zobrist each filed for divorce in May 2019 in Illinois and Tennessee.
Ben Zobrist took time off beginning in May 2019 to be with his family and didn’t return to the Cubs until September.
Zobrist “forfeited months of the 2019 season,” causing him to lose approximately $8 million in income while he tried to repair his marriage, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit states that in June 2020, during divorce proceedings, Julianna acknowledged for the first time that “she and Byron Yawn had been engaged in a sexual relationship for several months and that she had lied about this to Mr. Zobrist.”
Zobrist also alleges in the lawsuit that Yawn defrauded Zobrist’s charity for athletes. Yawn performed various roles for the Patriot Forward Charity, which Ben Zobrist founded to promote mental health among athletes and help them transition once their careers are over.
Yawn “drafted his own job description as executive director” in December 2018.
Ben Zobrist says in the lawsuit that he was tithing $10,000 per month to Yawn’s church and paid $10,000-$15,000 to fund a “pastoral trip” for Yawn and his family.
In March 2019, Patriot Forward Charity terminated Yawn’s $3,500-per-month job as executive director, but Yawn “somehow continued to fraudulently receive salary checks until May of 2019” and cashed them knowing he had been fired, the lawsuit claims.
Ben Zobrist’s suit seeks damages for breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress, adding that Yawn’s actions constitute “outrageous conduct.”
Ben Zobrist after scoring a run in 2016. Almost two years after he played his final major-league baseball game, Ben Zobrist is in the process of divorcing his wife, Julianna. Zobrist also is suing his family's former pastor for $6 million.