Former MLB Star Ben Zobrist Accuses Pastor of Affair With His Wife and Defrauding Charity

Ben Zobrist, who won the World Series in 2015 and 2016, filed a lawsuit against his pastor, claiming he had an affair with his wife, singer Julianna Zobrist, while providing marriage counseling.

By Lindsay Weinberg Jun 22, 2021 9:14 PMTags
Ben Zobrist, Julianna ZobristEzra Shaw/Getty Images

Ex-baseball pro Ben Zobrist is going to bat after his wife allegedly had an affair with their pastor. 

In May, the two-time World Series champion filed a lawsuit in Nashville against pastor Byron Yawn for having an "inappropriate sexual relationship" with his wife of 15 years, Julianna Zobrist, according to the complaint obtained by E! News. Ben is seeking $3 million in compensatory damages and $3 million in punitive damages from Byron.

The lawsuit states that Byron was the Senior Pastor and Elder at Community Bible Church; named Executive Director of Ben's organization known as the Patriot Forward Charity; and the owner of the consulting business Forrest Crain & Company.

Per the suit, Byron was the couple's trusted "spiritual mentor," with the couple attending pre-marital counseling with Byron in 2005, and then marriage counseling in 2013 due to issues with "pornography."

According to the Chicago Cubs star, Byron started speaking "daily" with Julianna, an inspirational speaker and author, beginning in August 2018. 

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"Unbeknownst to [Ben], in September 2018, during the time that he was providing pastoral counseling to [Ben], [Byron] also began secretly pursuing an intimate relationship with [Ben's] wife," the lawsuit reads.

He alleges their "romantic involvement" escalated in the spring of 2019, "when he began meeting her for sex." Byron and Julianna are accused in the complaint of using "burner phones" to secretly communicate.

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Their affair allegedly continued until the spring of 2020, "all the while concealing it from the Plaintiff, his counselee," per the suit.

Ben's legal team claims that Byron "exploited" his counseling sessions with Ben to "deceptively" encourage the athlete to "give his wife some space." The lawsuit claims he used the confidential counseling information to "his own self-seeking advantage" and "further cement his illicit relationship" with Julianna.

Byron's attorney, Chris Bellamy, says in a statement to E! News: "At the end of the day, a woman has the right to choose who she wants to be with." The lawyer added, "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. 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."

On June 16, Byron and his team filed a motion to seek more time to respond beyond the June 21 deadline, which Ben's legal team did not oppose.

Within the same lawsuit, Ben also accuses Byron of taking advantage of his Patriot Forward charity, where the church leader worked in content development, copyrighting and more. He allegedly used his role in the charity as an "excuse" to meet with Julianna.

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In September 2018, Byron allegedly emailed a proposed budget that included a $36,000 annual salary for himself. He was terminated as Executive Director in March 2019, when he was being paid $3,500 a month. He then "fraudulently" continued to receive his salary until May 2019, cashing checks "with full knowledge that his position had been terminated," per the suit.

Also in May 2019, Byron's wife Robin Yawn allegedly found his burner phone and told Ben that she suspected Byron and Julianna were having "an emotional relationship, but nothing physical."

Known in his sport as "Zorilla," Ben thus forfeited four months of the 2019 baseball season to "focus entirely on repairing his marital relationship," which his lawyers state cost him $8 million in income.

The baseball player says he only learned about his wife's sexual relationship in June 2020 during their divorce proceedings, when she allegedly admitted to the infidelity. 

Ben filed for divorce from Julianna in Williamson County, Tenn., in 2019, according to the court docket obtained by E! News. It's listed as "open" and appears to be ongoing. The estranged spouses share three children: Zion, 12, Kruse, 9, and Blaise, 5. 

Byron's wife, Robin, filed for divorce in Nashville in June 2020, and he then filed in July 2020, according to Nashville court dockets. It's listed as "disposed" and appears to be finalized.

E! News has reached out to lawyers for Ben and Julianna for comment, as well as Ben's charity and Forrest Crain & Co, and has not heard back.