The nearly five-year battle to obtain assets belonging to First AME Church of Los Angeles (FAME) has ended in victory for the historic ministry.
On Oct. 10, the California Court of Appeals affirmed the 2016 lower court decision that Rev. John Hunter; his wife, Denise Hunter; and several others for inappropriately separated and removed properties and resources, including FAME Assistance Corporation (FAC) and FAME Housing, from the control of the church without the knowledge of the congregation.
The court’s ruling definitively returns assets of 325 units of low-income housing, a diverse portfolio of real estate, and an assortment of public benefits service programs back to the management and operation of FAME, explained Pastor J. Edgar Boyd during an Oct. 20 press conference.
“First AME Church of Los Angeles has begun the process of reclaiming and taking possession and operation of all of its properties, assets and programs associated [with] the corporations,” Boyd said.
The charges against Hunter stemmed from actions during his eight-year tenure as pastor that began in 2004. He altered the church-approved bylaws of FAC and FAME Housing and removed the clause stating that the active pastor of First AME Church of Los Angeles be the head of the non-profit corporations. Hunter and a new board of directors then named his wife, Denise, as chief executive director.
Following Boyd’s appointment as pastor in Oct. 2012, he and the FAME trustees filed a lawsuit in Superior Court to return the entities to FAME. Their years of litigation were rewarded with the ruling in July 2016 by Judge Mark Mooney that “…the procedures used to amend the by-laws of FAME Assistance and FAME Housing were unfair, unreasonable and not performed in good faith. Therefore, the court determines that the amendments to the by-laws are void and of no effect. New officers and directors of FAME Assistance and FAME Housing will be selected in a manner consistent with the original by-laws of the organizations…” The defendants appealed that decision, which they subsequently lost.
Moving forward, Boyd announced, “We want private businesses, the public sector and community organizations with which we have had stellar relationships to know that we look forward to continuing our work with them.
“We want the community to know that we will be rebuilding some of our programs and expanding others and we look forward to continuing our services to not only South Los Angeles, but also to the greater community of Los Angeles,” he said.
Founded in 1872 by Biddy Mason and a band of believers, First AME Church is the oldest church established by African Americans in Los Angeles. FAME has implemented scores of outreach ministries; most under the decades-long leadership of the Rev. Dr. Cecil L. “Chip” Murray.
In 1992, after the Los Angeles civil unrest, FAME Church extended its social ministries. At the time of Murray’s retirement in 2004, FAME’s non-profit arm included an extensive low-income housing program; food and nutrition programs for the needy; a private school, a micro-lending and small business loan program, a transportation assistance program and a range of motivational empowerment programs aimed at disadvantaged L.A. communities.