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Apr252014

Commentary on Letter from the Covenant Life Pastors Regarding Lawsuit & Morales Trial

Mark Mitchell, the executive pastor for Covenant Life Church, sent a letter to all the members on Tuesday providing an update on the civil lawsuit and the upcoming criminal trial of Nathaniel Morales.  In this post, I provide a running commentary on that letter.   

I’ve interspersed my comments throughout the correspondence.  The letter and the lawsuit timeline provided are in bold letters to distinguish them from my commentary.     

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From: Mark Mitchell - Covenant Life Church
Date: April 22, 2014 6:59:48 PM EDT
To: Church Members
Subject: Lawsuit Update 

Dear Church, 

We are writing to report on the status of the civil lawsuit against the church.  As with many legal matters, the suit continues to play out very slowly. (At the end of this letter we have included a timeline to orient you to the history to date.) 

The lawsuit is also against Sovereign Grace Ministries, Sovereign Grace Church of Fairfax, and ten individual Defendants including C.J. Mahaney, Gary Ricucci, John Loftness and Grant Layman.  The lawsuit “continues to play out very slowly” – so do the criminal investigations. 

We are about 18 months into the process so far.  Although the Montgomery County Circuit Court dismissed the claims against all Defendants in May of 2013, the case was then appealed.  The hearing of the Appeal is scheduled for early June in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals; the ruling could come weeks or months or even a year later. 

The Original Complaint (lawsuit) was filed on October 17, 21012.  “The Montgomery County Court” is a reference to one judge, Sharon V. Burrell, not a Grand Jury or some other group of individuals.    

Burrell “dismissed the claims” but not because they lacked merit.  Even SGM made note of this fact in their “Update on the Amended Civil Lawsuit” on May 20, 2103.  They said, “Please note that this ruling does not specifically address the substance of the plaintiffs’ allegations.”  

Burrell dismissed the lawsuit because 9 victims waited too long to file the lawsuit per the statute of limitations in Maryland and because 2 victims were from Virginia.  None of the specific claims or factual allegations were dismissed because they lacked merit.  

There are good reasons for the Appeal.  Here are a few.  One, there should be no statute of limitations pertaining to sexual abuse.  It is a bad law.  It can take a long time before a victim is ready to come forward.  Some are so traumatized they never come forward.  Such statutes have been removed in other states.  The Appeal hopes to get this law overturned in Maryland.  

Two, getting rid of the statute of limitations will let the Maryland victims proceed to trial where they can make their case against C.J. Mahaney, John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, Grant Layman, Charlie Llewellyn, Stephen Griney, Mark Hoffman, Dave Mayo, David Adams, et al.  All these men proclaim their innocence.  Let them prove it before a jury as victims, witnesses, and evidence testify against them.  These alleged abusers and conspirators need to stand trial where they are cross examined under oath. 

Three, the conspiracy to cover up sex abuse was not discovered until August 2011.  The abuses occurred over 30 years but the evidence did not materialize until recently.  Therefore, the statute of limitations should not apply.  The conspiracy also continues.  See for example, Factual Allegation 179.    

Fourth, the alleged conspiracy was interstate but centered in Maryland which argues against dismissal based on jurisdiction.   

The Plaintiffs lawyers are working pro bono.  They would not be investing their time and money in the long appeal process if they were not hopeful of victory.  Everyone should pray the Appeal is successful.

Meanwhile, the independent investigation that Covenant Life has commissioned is ongoing.  We are roughly at the halfway mark in its completion.  Anyone who has information that may be relevant to the investigation is still invited to e-mail that information, or just their contact information and the general nature of what they would like to convey, to the e-mail address established for this investigation: CLCInvestigation@TL-LawFirm.com

On August 28, 2013, Joshua Harris wrote a letter to CLC in which he said, 

“At the June 23 [2013] Members Meeting, I shared that we had decided to commission an investigation into the issues raised in the civil lawsuit against our church. … After sharing our intention with the congregation on June 23, we proceeded to retain the nationally recognized, independent law firm of Thaler Liebeler LLP to do this work. … The investigation will probably be accomplished in a matter of months.”  

Thaler Liebeler began its investigation in July 2013.  That was ten months ago.  Now Mark Mitchell tells us, “We are roughly at the halfway mark in its completion.”  That means “the issues raised in the civil lawsuit against our church” will take approximately 20 months to investigate.  But wait a minute.  I thought everyone was innocent!  What’s to investigate?  Initially, Joshua said the investigation would “probably be accomplished in a matter of months.”  A matter of months has turned into 20 months. 

Mark further says, “Anyone who has information that may be relevant to the investigation is still invited to e-mail that information, or just their contact information and the general nature of what they would like to convey, to the e-mail address established for this investigation: CLCInvestigation@TL-LawFirm.com.”  That’s fine but Mark should also tell people they are required by law to report the same information regarding suspected child abuse to law enforcement.

After the Court of Special Appeals gives its ruling, it is possible that either side might seek review in the Maryland Court of Appeals, the state’s highest Court.  Should the Court of Appeals agree to hear the case, there would be further appellate proceedings that could last many months or even years.  Until the outcome of all appeals is known, and the lawsuit finally ends, we do not believe it’s wise to discuss the specifics of the suit or release the results of the independent investigation, since these actions could affect the legal process and prolong its ultimate conclusion. 

Whatever the ruling by the Court of Special Appeals, the case will be appealed to the Maryland Court of Appeals.  Either by the Plaintiffs or by the Defendants.  It will go to the highest court in Maryland.  

In his August 28, 2013 letter, Joshua also said, 

“Basically, this means opening up our actions, policies and procedures, especially those that relate to child protection, to scrutiny. … The way the appeal process unfolds will be key in determining the best time to share the results of the investigation.  But we’re committed to learning and applying all we can from the investigation and communicating its results at the earliest appropriate date.” 

I don’t think the “actions” of the pastors, the “specifics of the suit” or “the results” of the investigation will ever be shared with Covenant Life Church.  Why?  Because many of these findings incriminate the pastors, abusers, and conspirators.  I expect Thaler Liebeler will produce a whitewashed report like Ambassadors of Reconciliation did for Sovereign Grace Ministries.  A few slaps on the wrist but certainly no information that could be used to prosecute these men or put abusers and conspirators in jail. 

That’s why this “investigation” is so limited even though it is taking 20 months.  It is not a criminal investigation.  Thaler Liebeler can’t subpoena paper or people.  And I doubt it is an “independent” investigation.  There is an easy way to find out.  Every member of CLC should ask the pastors for a copy of the contract they signed with lawfirm.  Remember, the CLC pastors believe in congregational accountability.  Surely they want to be transparent!

Members should also ask how much this investigation has cost to date and how much they project it will cost in the future.  The 9 month investigation by Ambassadors of Reconciliation cost SGM approximately $400,000.  Ted Kober was the lead investigator for AoR.  He was paid $150 per hour.  Lars Liebeler is the lead investigator for the CLC investigation.  I estimate he is paid $600 per hour or more.  Here's a thought.  Law enforcement will do an “independent” and “criminal” investigation free of charge.   

I wrote Thaler Liebeler on August 29, 2013 and asked two questions.  Of course, I never received any answers.  CLC members should ask the CLC pastors the same questions. 

“At the conclusion of your investigation will you be sharing all your findings with Covenant Life Church?  In other words, do you intend to share incriminating evidence with the public that could result in fines or jail time for CLC employees (e.g. Grant Layman), former employees (e.g. C.J. Mahaney, John Loftness, Gary Ricucci, Stephen Griney), or current members (e.g. Mark Hoffman, Dave Mayo, Charlie Llewellyn)?”

 “Will you be sharing all the evidence you discover as you discover it with the Montgomery County Police Department (e.g. Detective Sally Magee)?  Or do plan to withhold that information from law enforcement under attorney-client privilege?” 

I copied the second question to law enforcement.  In retrospect, I don’t think any of the information shared with Thaler Liebeler is covered under attorney-client privilege

I was wrong about this.  The information shared with Liebeler by the pastors and members of CLC was protected by attorney-client privilege because CLC was his client. [I was wrong about this.  The information shared with Liebeler by the pastors and members of CLC was protected by attorney-client privilege because CLC was his client.]  Certainly, people at large who provide evidence of crimes to Thaler Liebeler are not clients. [I am not certain about this point.  Non-members (i.e., “people at large”) may also be protected.]     

In closing, it’s appropriate to mention the upcoming trial of Nathaniel Morales, a former Covenant Life member who has been charged in Maryland with molesting boys during the 1980s.  Mr. Morales’ case received a good deal of publicity in early 2013, and may do so again during his jury trial, currently set for May 12-16.  The case against Mr. Morales is a criminal matter and should not be confused with the civil lawsuit against Covenant Life. 

On February 6, 2013, the Covenant Life Pastors put out a press release on the CLC website.  It said in part,

“On Monday [February 4] news reports were widely circulated about a Nevada man, Nathaniel Morales, who has been charged in Maryland with molesting boys during the 1980s. … Contrary to the impression left by the news reports, Covenant Life Church had no knowledge of such abuse until many years after the abuse when an adult who had been victimized as a child came forward.”

This was a blatant lie.  I will deal with it in a future post.

We wanted the church family to be aware that Robin Boisvert and Grant Layman have received subpoenas to appear as witnesses in the Morales trial.  This represents an opportunity to pray for wisdom if they testify and to lift up prayers for all who have been affected by sexual abuse. 

Grant Layman will not be able to lie on the stand like he did to Maryland Detectives during the investigation.  Don’t pray for wisdom.  Pray both of these men are completely honest and don’t attempt to dodge questions.  Do pray for wisdom for the District Attorneys.  They need divine assistance in making the case and dealing with the unscrupulous tactics used by the Defense.  Pray also for all the material witnesses against Morales including the victims from Covenant Life Church. 

With the civil lawsuit still on appeal, we continue to be constrained in how much we can communicate, but look forward to being able to present a fuller picture at the appropriate time.  Thank you for your understanding and patience.

I don’t think the CLC pastors will ever conclude there is an “appropriate time” to present a “fuller picture” unless a fuller picture means 2% more than they have shared thus far.  Remember, they are the sole judges of what is appropriate and inappropriate.   C.J. Mahaney, Dave Harvey, John Loftness, et al. famously declared the most vital of information “inappropriate” for the members of SGM.  They used this designation to cover up all manner of deceit and spiritual abuse.

We encourage you to pray that God’s manifold wisdom, justice and goodness will be on display as these matters continue to unfold. 

There are many issues that will not be addressed at the Morales trial given its scope and time limitations.  All of these issues must be addressed by the Covenant Life pastors.  These and other matters related to the lawsuit will “continue to unfold” for years to come.      

Mark Mitchell

On behalf of the elders 

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Lawsuit timeline: 

October, 2012: Plaintiffs’ Initial Complaint filed 

There were 3 Plaintiffs. 

May 14, 2013: Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint filed 

Seven months later, there were 11 Plaintiffs.  I’d like to know how many were in the Third Amended Complaint that was never filed.

May 17, 2013: Hearing on Motions to Dismiss

At this hearing, the Court dismissed with prejudice all of the claims of nine of the 11 plaintiffs based upon the legal statute of limitations that governs their claims.  The Court also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction all of the claims against the remaining two defendants residing in Virginia. 

June 14, 2013: Plaintiffs filed an Appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals 

June 23, 2013: Independent Investigation announced at Covenant Life Church Members Meeting

At our June 23 Members Meeting, Joshua Harris presented plans to commission an investigation into all the issues raised in the civil lawsuit, with special emphasis on learning everything possible to make our current child protection policies and procedures the best they can be.  The investigation, still in progress, is being conducted by the nationally recognized, independent law firm of Thaler Liebeler, LLP.  The firm is an impartial third party with no prior connection to Covenant Life Church or the matters under investigation. 

Thaler Liebeler was commissioned to investigate “all the issues raised in the civil lawsuit.”  This means the law firm was authorized to investigate manifold crimes that occurred across state lines.  Of course, this is not their job.  They are not criminal investigators.  The Covenant Life pastors should have “commissioned” local, state and federal law enforcement authorities, not lawyers.    

August 8, 2013: Motion to Reconsider Denied

The Circuit Court for Montgomery County issued an order denying the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Reconsider, and also noted that since Plaintiffs had failed to file a Third Amended Complaint, the case is closed. 

This is misleading.  The Plaintiffs had a Third Amended Complaint ready to file but could not do so because the lawsuit was dismissed.  I’d sure love to read what is in it! 

However, the Plaintiffs’ Appeal filed with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals on June 14, 2013 is still pending. 

June 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10 or 11, 2014: Oral arguments for the Appeal Hearing will be scheduled for one of these days. 

Unknown date: The Maryland Court of Special Appeals will render its opinion.

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