Custody ruling appealed

Daily Courier/October 18, 2003
By Jerry Stensland

Rutherfordton -- Appeals are under way in a custody dispute involving Shana Muse and her four children.

Muse, a former Word of Faith Fellowship member, left her children with WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington after Muse left the Spindale-based church in September 2002.

Muse returned to Rutherford County in December 2002 and began the process of getting her children back. The Covingtons refused to give up the children.

The Rutherford County Department of Social Services got involved and was eventually awarded custody earlier this month after Judge Randy Pool ruled the WOFF environment was abusive to children.

The Covingtons, through their Hendersonville-based attorneys Tom Hix and Frank Jackson, are appealing the decision.

Judge Pool and the North Carolina Court of Appeals have both denied an immediate stay of Pool's ruling requested by Hix shortly after the Oct. 7 ruling.

The children have been removed from the Coving-ton's home and taken to a safe house outside Ruth-erford County. The Covingtons are not allowed to visit the children, though Muse's sisters Suzanne Cooper and Cindy Cordes, both current WOFF members, are allowed supervised visits.

Hix is allowed to ask the Court of Appeals for an emergency stay of the ruling without response from the other side. DSS is represented by attorney Brad Greenway.

The emergency stay was denied and a written request for a stay with responses by DSS are now being filed.

Greenway said he has a Monday deadline for his paperwork.

The case is not likely to come before the Court of Appeals for at least one year. The Court of Appeals, unlike the State Supreme Court, must hear the case.

The DSS case was a legal gamble by Greenway in which DSS brought the charge of abuse only against the Muse and not the church or the Covingtons. The Covingtons were later added as parties to the case after a motion by Hix was granted by Judge David Fox.

DSS contended that the WOFF environment was abusive and that because Muse was a member of the church and left the children with a couple in the church that the children were endangered and needed to be removed.

Even though Muse was accused of abuse, she supported the DSS action because she wanted her children removed from the WOFF as soon as possible. Muse said she was, while a member of WOFF, forced to discipline her children in ways she did not support.

Judge Pool agreed with the DSS arguments and awarded DSS full and immediate custody.

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