Court Cases to Watch in 2023

Besides shining a spotlight on the bad behavior of religious leaders, court  cases often bring unique attention to church and ministry governance issues. Cross examination frequently provides answers to questions church members have long sought.

The finances of churches and ministries which are often secret may become a matter of public record during litigation.

For organizations filing a Form 990, legal expenses are disclosed on the Statement of Expenses page.

* Evan and Joshua Edwards – Evan and his son are accused of using their non-profit organization ASLAN International Ministry to fraudulently obtain a Paycheck Protection Program loan. According to ProPublica, the ministry received a loan of $8,417,200 in 2020 to retain 486 employees during COVID. USA Today reported the family used part of the money toward purchasing a $3.7 million home in Orlando among other misdeeds.

A trial date has not yet been set. The court docket is available on PACER.

* Charles Randall “Randy” Free and Michelle Free – The former pastor of Cedar Cross Country Church ( Alvarado, Texas) and his wife are accused of selling the church and using some of the money to purchase a home. They have been charged with theft and money laundering.

According to MinistryWatch, funds held by the Frees and their non-profit Team Heritage International have been placed in receivership. The court appointed Christopher Cass to oversee the disbursement of funds.

Johnson County Texas Courthouse website reports the case is scheduled to go before a jury trial on July 10, 2023.

* Jordan Hall – The former pastor of First Baptist Church Sydney, Montana, and former publisher Pulpit & Pen and Protestia faces three charges: Criminal possession of dangerous drugs, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and carrying a concealed weapon while under the influence.

The Richland County District Court reports that while the case status is currently suspended, a jury trial is scheduled for June 22, 2023.

* Benny Hinn – Norman Quintero, CEO of TeleAmerica Television Network and Senior Pastor of Iglesia Getsemani in Anaheim, California, has sued televangelist Benny Hinn, Hinn-associate Donald B. Price and publicist Ronn Torossian for defamation. A case management conference is set for June 5, 2023. The case can be followed through the Superior Court of Orange County website. Case Number is 30-2022-01258316.

* James MacDonald – The former pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel has filed two lawsuits that are currently active. In 2019, MacDonald sued talk radio host Mancow Muller for libel.

MacDonald’s lawsuit accuses Muller of falsely claiming MacDonald planned to plant child porn on Muller’s computer. According to the lawsuit, “Such statements were false, were known to be false by Muller when spoken, and constitute defamation per se.”

The case is slowly moving forward. On January 10, 2023, exhibits were filed. Discovery will close on May 27, 2023.

In 2020, MacDonald sued law firm Wagenmaker & Oberly for libel. Attorney Sally Wagenmaker authored a report on behalf Harvest Bible Chapel which accused MacDonald of improperly benefitting from church funds.

Updates for both cases are available through the Cook County Circuit Court website.

* Liberty University – America’s largest Christian university and its former president Jerry Falwell Jr. have sued each other in Lynchburg Circuit Court. Falwell accuses the university of committing defamation. Meanwhile, Liberty University accuses Falwell of violating fiduciary duty by withholding critical information during contract negotiations.

May God have mercy on anyone attempting to use the Lynchburg Circuit Court website. ?

Scott Walter Lamb, former Senior Vice President of Communications at Liberty University, was fired in 2021. Lamb alleges he was fired after criticizing the universities handling of sex abuse allegations.

Liberty University denies the charge.

The docket is viewable on PACER.

* McLean Bible Church – The church pastored by David Platt has been sued by former church members alleging the church elders committed breach of contract by failing to follow the church’s constitution. Church elders also allegedly disqualified church members from voting.

Oral arguments are scheduled for February 16, 2023, at the Court of Appeals of Virginia in Fredericksburg, VA. The Virginia Judicial System posts audio/video of oral arguments online.

* Perry Stone – After allegations of sexual harassment were made against televangelist Perry Stone, an investigation was launched.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press reported, “Tenth Judicial District Attorney Steve Crump said in an email Tuesday he has completed his review of a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe after allegations of sexual misconduct by Perry Stone and will soon make a decision on how to proceed.” So far, no charges have been filed.

* Charles Stovall Weems – Celebration Church in Jacksonville, Florida, sued to evict its former pastor from a parsonage. In 2021, Stovall and Keri Weems purchased a home at $855,000 through Weems Group LLC, a limited liability company, and then sold it to their church four months later for $1,286,900 — $431,000 profit!

The ongoing case can be accessed through the Duval County Clerk of the Circuit Court website. Case number is 16-2022-CC-006371-XXXX-MA.