Anglo-Catholic Priest Files Multi-Million Dollar Lawsuit Against Former Attorney and Friend
By David W. Virtue
PHILADELPHIA, PA---Anglo-Catholic priest, Fr. David L. Moyer, together with The Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, have filed a lawsuit against Moyer's former attorney, John H. Lewis, Jr., and his law firm Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads (MMWR) alleging malpractice in Moyer's failed lawsuit against Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison.
In 2002, Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr., the diocesan bishop, said Moyer had "broken communion" with the Episcopal Church and deposed, or defrocked, him as an Episcopal priest.
Moyer not only refused to leave Good Shepherd - which continues to pay his salary - but sued Bennison for damages in Montgomery County Court, seeking to have his defrocking overturned. He lost that suit in October, which opened the way for the diocese to remove him. To date they have not been successful. A hearing last week in Orphans Court was adjourned after Judge Stanley Ott heard both sides argue the pros and cons of Moyer retaining his job and the status of the parish within the diocese.
Moyer now believes that his deposition was badly handled by Lewis and filed a lawsuit against his former attorney and friend seeking financial redress.
Lewis and his law firm have answered the lawsuit and counterclaimed, stating that the lawsuit has been brought in bad faith.
There is irony in the lawsuit in that Moyer testified at the deposition trial that it was a violation of Scripture to sue your Christian brother. He testified that his lawsuit against Bennison was proper because he got permission to sue Bennison from then Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey. There is no indication that he asked Archbishop Rowan Williams for permission to sue Lewis. Moyer and his attorneys declined to comment on the lawsuit to VOL.
"The decision to bring a malpractice action against Lewis and MMWR was not made in good faith, or with any basis to believe that malpractice had been committed," said the MMWR answer.
In their answer Lewis and MMWR say the plan to sue is evidenced by an email from a member of the Vestry of Good Shepherd, in which he states that "there has been no intention to litigate but to take a settlement from their [MMWR's] insurance carrier".
Further allegations are made that Moyer and the Vestry intended to withhold information about the filing of this case, and the case itself, from the members of Good Shepherd. "The bad faith of Moyer and Good Shepherd is shown by e-mails from a member of the Vestry to conceal his identity by using a fictitious e-mail account" and that "there has been no intention to litigate but to take a settlement from their insurance carrier". They also allege that Lewis and MMWR had agreed to keep secret the filing of the answer.
In their Complaint, Moyer and Good Shepherd allege that Lewis failed to effectively represent Fr. Moyer in the case against Bennison.
In their Complaint, Moyer and Good Shepherd claim that Lewis failed to effectively represent Fr. Moyer during his deposition (defrocking) of the priest in the case against Bennison, causing material damage to the church and to Moyer personally. They further assert that the parish incurred losses amounting to $1.1 million in legal fees, as well as the reputation of Good Shepherd resulting in the loss of parishioners and charitable contributions to the church in excess of $3 million. They further allege that Moyer lost his pension benefits and health care provided by The Episcopal Church.
They also claim that Lewis failed to take critical discovery of key witnesses including subpoenaing former Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold and other important key witnesses to testify at the trial.
Lewis and MMWR assert that their complaint makes only one specific charge of negligence. "According to the Complaint, Bennison defrauded the Standing Committee in the Moyer matter by concealing from the Standing Committee two letters from Presiding Bishop Griswold. The Complaint claims that the Standing Committee, because of fraud by Bennison, voted to bring charges against Moyer without knowing that Griswold would oppose that action, a "fact" that was supposedly shown by the two letters. According to the Complaint, Lewis failed to inform the jury of these "facts." If the jury had known this they would have accepted Moyer's claim of fraud by Bennison, alleges Moyer's attorneys.
In their answer, Lewis and MMWR state that the first Griswold letter was given to the Standing Committee with the knowledge that the Standing Committee knew that Griswold would oppose their action when they voted to bring charges against Moyer. The second Griswold letter was written months after the Standing Committee had voted. "The Second Griswold Letter could not have been part of a fraud on the Standing Committee, because it was not in existence until almost four months after the Standing Committee made its Findings and Determination concerning Moyer," Lewis alleges.
During the Bennison trial, Moyer contradicted his claim of fraud by Bennison by volunteering the following testimony during his cross examination: "May I say something? I never thought that Bishop Bennison was trying to impose anything on me. He was not trying to have women priests and change our prayer book. He would not do that. He and I are friends. We are brothers. He would not do that."
Moyer then claims that he asked that an appeal be taken. However, Lewis claims in an e-mail (November, 2008) from Moyer in which he states: "we all agreed that there was no merit or ground to that [an appeal]."
Lewis further denies Moyer's claim that he lost his pension benefits. "John Lewis and MMWR obtained for David Moyer the restoration of his pension benefits but Moyer voluntarily chose to take his pension benefits outside the Church Pension Fund."
Finally, as to Moyer's claim that Lewis should pay millions of dollars because people have left Good Shepherd and are not contributing to Good Shepherd, Lewis responded, "The alleged loss of parishioners has been caused by Moyer's and Good Shepherd's own actions, including their action in bringing this case, which has diminished their standing and reputation among the parishioners of The Church of the Good Shepherd, and has caused some parishioners to leave the Church."
Lewis told VOL that the loss of friendship with Fr. Moyer over the lawsuit has been painful but was doubled when Moyer and his attorney chose to have the complaint filed at a time when they knew that he was at Children's Hospital in Washington when his granddaughter Sofia was on the prayer list at Good Shepherd. "I had to come back and meet with my attorneys," Lewis told VOL.
Lewis said he did the trial and the pretrial pro bono. "I find it ironic that the Vestry and Moyer unanimously selected me and my firm to prepare a response to the Diocese suit?"
"I have kept Moyer in Good Shepherd since 2002 when all this began when Bishop Bennison was still an active bishop. There has been little gratitude for my efforts," he told VOL.
According to a separate e-mail VOL has received, some 10 families and individuals have left the Church of the Good Shepherd over the lawsuit.
Lewis and MMWR conclude by stating that the actions of Moyer and Good Shepherd in bringing this case were arbitrary, vexatious and in bad faith. MMWR has also counterclaimed for unpaid legal fees of $66,000, and both Lewis and MMWR have asked that the Court order Moyer and Good Shepherd to pay their counsel fees.
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