Kestler sues Smith in latest dispute over control of radio network

Times-News, Idaho/March 6, 2007
By Cassidy Friedman

Twin Falls -- A Twin Falls pastor has accused his mentor of funding a sexual harassment case against him to gain control over one of the nation's largest non-commercial satellite radio networks.

Mike Kestler, pastor of Calvary Chapel of Twin Falls, filed a lawsuit Friday in federal court in Boise against Chuck Smith of Costa Mesa, Calif., founder of the worldwide Calvary Chapel movement.

"Since 2002 â€- Smith has claimed control of the network without effect," Kestler charged in court records.

The network, worth about $250 million and reaching 22.5 million potential listeners, has been run by Kestler's Idaho office and Smith and his son's Costa Mesa, Calif. office.

Kestler's filing is the latest legal salvo in a dispute that began in 2001.

For at least one of Kestler's parishioners, the legal battle is, at its root, spiritual.

"They both need to get on their knees and pray," said Cherie Warr, 52. "It's so unbelievable that it's gotten so blown out of proportion. I think it's sad it's come to this. You can't be friends as long as these two gentlemen have and not be hurt."

Warr joined Smith's church as a teenager and got to know Kestler before he moved to Idaho to open his own chapel.

Both pastors respected each other and cooperated exceedingly well on building the radio network, she said. There was no difference between both churches. Both were doing God's work until the devil interfered, she said.

"We are living in a world that is so controlled by the devil," Warr said. "The devil is destroying God's work."

Instead of being able to forgive each other, matters only grew worse.

Smith had once defended Kestler when he had been accused of asking a female parishioner to run away with him.

Lori Pollitt, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, said Kestler hired her to work for Calvary Satellite Network in Twin Falls, sexually harassed her and, when she rejected him, fired her. Smith financed her lawsuit against Kestler, according to court records.

Warr said she does not believe the sexual harassment allegations are true. But Warr said Smith must believe they are.

Kestler disagrees. "Through his unlawful and secret funding of the Pollitt litigation â€- Smith acted deliberately and intentionally to accomplish his unlawful goal of gaining control of the network," Kestler's lawyer wrote in his complaint.

On Jan. 29, a federal judge in Boise dismissed some of Pollitt's allegations.

Kestler's complaint said the allegations have caused him to suffer "extreme embarrassment and stress."

The controversy earned about a one-minute mention in Kestler's Sunday sermon. A lead representative of the church declined to comment Monday, citing the open case. Smith could not immediately be reached for comment.

Warr will continue to attend her church, even if the feud worsens.

"They have both respected each other in so many ways," Warr said of Kestler and Smith. "They should be able to forgive and forget. It needs to be dropped. They are only hurting each other."

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