DSS, WOFF ruling delayed

Daily Courier (NC)/November 17, 2005
By Jerry Stensland

Spindale — No ruling was given, but the Department of Social Services and the Word of Faith Fellowship were in court again Tuesday.

Attorneys representing WOFF and several WOFF members have petitioned for the reimbursement of extensive legal fees incurred over the past two years.

District Court Judge Athena Brooks is expected to issue a ruling at a later date after hearing testimony Tuesday and receiving further documents from both sides this week.

DSS and WOFF recently settled a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by WOFF, a settlement DSS contends covers, at least in spirit, the other cases involved.

“Three of the attorneys seeking fee recovery represented the Word of Faith in their litigation against DSS,” the agency said in a statement released when the attorneys filed for reimbursement in August. “While the cases have different named parties, the matters are undeniably related and the time sheets for the attorneys indicated that they were all working together on issues for Word of Faith. Rutherford County strongly contends because of the related nature of this matter to the prior litigation, this demand for attorneys fees and costs arguably violates the spirit of the prior agreement if not the letter of that agreement.”

The federal suit, also settled in August, awarded WOFF $305,000, cleared the records of multiple WOFF members of any past allegations of child abuse and stipulates certain conditions under which DSS can initiate any future abuse investigations.

DSS said the settlement was the best for the them, noting the more than $1 million in legal expenses incurred by WOFF, and that the new conditions on future abuse allegations are things they normally do anyway.

The other cases cited in the action heard Tuesday involve Sarah and Rachael Almanie and WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington.

The cases included a DSS legal action from 2003 which pulled the four children of Shana Muse out of the WOFF and placed them in DSS custody.

That ruling was later overturned on appeal.

Prior to the appeal ruling, the Almanie sisters filed for and won emancipation to be considered legal adults.

They were released from DSS custody and returned to the home of the Covingtons.

The couple and the sisters have been represented by several attorneys including Philip Roth, Tom Hix, Phillip Jackson and a New York law firm.

The total legal fees listed in court documents were up to $328,000.

Roth contended in the filing that because the DSS case from 2003 was overturned on appeal that his clients, the two sisters, were entitled to reimbursement of legal fees.

Muse is a former WOFF member who has been unsuccessful in getting custody of her children from the Covingtons, who are not related to the children.

Muse left the children with the couple while she went to the Wellspring Retreat in Ohio to recover from the what Muse called the cult programming of WOFF.

After the DSS case from 2003 was overturned, Muse revived a civil suit to regain custody of her two younger boys, who also reside with the Covingtons.

Muse has two sisters who are still WOFF members.

Muse was recently accused by one of her sisters of assaulting Muse’s son on a visit in Charlotte.

Muse was cleared of that charge, but later found to be in contempt of court during a separate custody proceeding from the same incident.

The custody battle was in court again recently with the Covington’s seeking to make permanent a temporary custody agreement Muse signed in December 2002.

The case is ongoing after a motion by the Covington’s for summary judgment on that issue was denied.

Muse is one of many former WOFF members that have stepped forward over the past 10 years to tell their stories of how WOFF operates.

The former members contend WOFF is a cult which maintains complete control over the lives of its members.

The WOFF say they simply have a different worship style than most and are being persecuted for their religious practices.

Also this week several WOFF members, including Brooke Covington, reported vandalism to property.

Covington reported that the passenger door of her vehicle was spray painted with the letters ‘WOFF’ sometime Sunday night or Monday morning.

Lucas Jacklett of Jacklett Construction and Dr. Jerry Gross of the Foot and Ankle Center also reported similar incidents.

The doors and wall of the Foot and Ankle Center and landscaping rocks at Jacklett Construction were spray painted.

Authorities had no leads as to whom may be responsible Wednesday.

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