Dr. John J. Hunter_ Photo by Troy Tieuel for Sentinel
The legal saga continues for the Rev. Dr. John J. Hunter who filed yet another lawsuit on February 25 charging the African Methodist Episcopal Church with “a campaign of defamation and public humiliation” against him.
Bishop T. Larry Kirkland, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, and the Board of Trustees of the denomination’s Southern California Conference are also named as defendants.
Dr. Hunter’s complaint occurred after a Los Angeles Superior Court decision issued earlier that day in the case by Pastor Boyd and First A.M.E. Church of Los Angeles charging Dr. Hunter and his wife, Denise, with breach of fiduciary duty as the church’s leaders, and financial mismanagement of FAME Corporations.
On Monday, Judge Mark Mooney granted a motion by FAME Corporations attorneys to substitute the law firm of Ivie, McNeil & Wyatt as its counsel of record instead of the Law Offices of Robert Silverman, who filed the original complaint on behalf of Pastor Boyd and FAME Church.
Judge Mooney also instructed Attorney Silverman to submit an amended complaint before the next status conference on April 25.
Both Bishop Kirkland and Pastor Boyd declined comment on Monday’s activity, however, Silverman said, “The first part of the lawsuit by the church against Rev. Hunter is not affected. What the court wants me to do is amend the complaint.
“Instead of me representing FAME Corporations as the plaintiffs, the judge wants me to amend the complaint so that I am suing FAME Corporations and those individuals [Mrs. Hunter and the Board of Directors]. Then, I move ahead with the same case I had before.”
Attorney Victor Bullock, who represents Dr. Hunter, said, “The court’s ruling was correct. The only entity with authority to determine if the Corporation can sue anyone on its behalf is the Board of Directors and that was not done in this case.
“Silverman stated that the lawsuits were filed at the direction of J. Edgar Boyd and the court held he had no authority to direct him to do that and issue a lawsuit.”
“Once the new attorneys are brought in, the lawsuit on behalf of FAME Corporations will be dismissed,” said Bullock.
“The other complaint [by the church] is still viable for now, but that’s subject to a hearing basically on an objection to the complaint. That part of the case could be dropped.”
Still, the latest lawsuit by Dr. Hunter looms large and he is determined to press onward.
“Reverend Edgar Boyd and Bishop T. Larry Kirkland … have espoused a litany of lies, defamatory remarks and misrepresentations towards me and my wife,” he said in a statement.
“Because of the relentless campaign to discredit me and destroy my 30 years of pastoral service, I am forced to seek legal action where justice can be restored through truth and facts.“
Dr. Hunter, who is seeking $17 million in damages, maintains the defendants’ retaliated against him for filing a police report and a lawsuit against Bethel A.M.E. Church in San Francisco.
According the complaint, the A.M.E. Church’s actions toward Dr. Hunter resulted in “not less than $6 million” in economic losses and $11 million for suffering “emotional distress” and “an indelible mark on his reputation.”
Attorney Bullock said, “After his reassignment as pastor at FAME to Bethel AME Church, San Francisco, those church members and the defendants engaged in unlawful actions to physically injure Rev. Hunter by literally pushing him out of the church on Sunday morning.
“They then embarked on a campaign of defamation by asserting a series of slanderous and libelous allegations against Rev. Hunter. However, the defendants didn't stop there. They then sought to publicly embarrass Rev. Hunter by putting him through a sham trial in retaliation for his reporting of the physical assault to the local police.
“In fact, the so-called "charges" against Rev. Hunter that the A.M.E. Church is now prosecuting includes the admission that Rev. Hunter's assertion of his rights is a reason for his suspension from Bethel A.M.E. Church and the basis for further discipline. Such retaliation is illegal and is one of the many reasons Rev. Hunter has filed his lawsuit.”
Attorney Silverman responded, “That case will be dismissed and thrown out by a civil court because it’s the exclusive jurisdiction of the A.M.E. Church.
“It’s a purely religious matter dealing with the employment of a pastor within the church and it’s called ministerial privilege.
“The church, not the civil courts, have exclusive jurisdiction. It’s established by the every state in the union, particularly California,” he countered.
Summarizing his position, Bullock concluded, “With Monday's filing, Rev. Hunter looks forward, with eager anticipation, to the opportunity to help uncover the truth, which has been crushed under an avalanche of outrageous and malicious fabrications.
“Rev. Hunter is not asking the court to reinstate him as pastor of FAME, but rather to see that justice is done and that the truth prevails.”