Texarkana, Arkansas - Organizations connected to imprisoned evangelist Tony Alamo want to use an Arkansas law that gives charities immunity to lawsuits as a defense against legal action from Alamo's former wives.
Attorney John Rogers of Clayton, Missouri, filed a motion earlier this month asking U.S. District Judge Susan Hickey to permit him to raise the defense of charitable immunity on behalf of Twenty First Century Holiness Tabernacle Church Inc., Gloryland Christian Church, Armful of Help, Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation and Music Square Church. All of the "church defendants" are or once were names used by Tony Alamo in connection with Tony Alamo Christian Ministries.
Seven women are suing the groups for unspecified damages for physical and sexual abuses they claim to have suffered when they were children and Alamo took them as his "wifes."
Alamo was convicted of transporting juveniles across state lines for sex and is serving a 175-year federal prison sentence.
Trial in the civil suit is scheduled to be held in January.
The lawsuit, which was filed by Texarkana attorney David Carter on behalf of the plaintiffs, also names ministry-controlled businesses and high-ranking ministry members as defendants. Some of the defendants filed cross claims early on in the suit, increasing the number of involved parties in the complex litigation, the Texarkana Gazette reported.
Hickey in March denied a motion from the defendants asking for permission to include even more parties as defendants. Hickey's ruling noted that the case has been pending since Carter filed it Aug. 22, 2010, and that adding new parties would significantly delay proceedings.
Twenty First is registered as a nonprofit organization with the Arkansas Secretary of State.
"That just means they've paid what they have to pay," said Secretary of State spokesman Alex Reed.
Gloryland Christian Church and Armful of Help are names used by Twenty First.
The defunct Tony and Susan Alamo Foundation, named for Tony Alamo and his deceased wife and former co-evangelist Susan, was registered as a charitable organization in California, according to recent court filings by Rogers.
Music Square Church is defunct but was registered as a charitable organization in Tennessee.
Rogers, who began to represent the defendants in October 2012, states in his motion that the defendants' first attorney, John Wesley Hall of Little Rock, should have raised the immunity defense but failed to do so.
In his opposing response to Rogers' motion filed Friday, Carter describes blaming Hall as an "attempt to throw their former counsel under the bus."
Carter said Rogers could have asked for permission to raise a new defense months ago, when he replaced Hall, but did not.
Carter's response complains that if the church defendants are allowed to raise charitable immunity as a defense, he'll have to amend the suit to include the church defendants' insurance carriers as defendants, again increasing the number of parties to the suit and setting the case back months in terms of scheduling.
"Plaintiffs note that management of various defendants' conduct in this case has at times resembled the herding of cats," Carter's motion states. "This court has entered at least two orders to deal with unnecessary and careless pleadings, and to serve notice that sanctions would result from continued abuses."
Carter's motion also alleges that the church defendants are not legitimate nonprofits but "sham charities."
"All products donated to movants (the defendants) were either sold for profit or consumed by members of Tony Alamo Christian Ministries. All monies donated were controlled by Tony Alamo and for his benefit."
Rogers' motion claims that the church defendants operated only to break even and that any profits were used to feed the poor and spread the gospel.
At Alamo's criminal trial in July 2009, witnesses testified that ministry-run organizations and businesses operated solely to make money and obtain food and supplies, which Alamo tightly controlled. Food donations were used to feed the members who live communally on church compounds in Fouke and Fort Smith in Arkansas and in California, or were sold to the public in ministry-run stores, witnesses testified.
Children in the ministry were sometimes required to work in warehouses, rubbing expiration dates from cans of food that were sold.
The civil suit is set for trial in January. Hickey has cleared her calendar for six weeks beginning Jan. 13 in El Dorado, Arkansas