Judgment granted in favor of church in LSU-3 lawsuit

On March 5, the Riverside County Superior Court granted Summary Judgment in favor of all defendants on all claims in what has come to be known as the LSU-3 lawsuit. The court has ruled that there are no disputed issues of material fact that would need to be decided by a jury, and the undisputed facts are sufficient to allow the court to rule on the case as a matter of law. The court has ruled in favor of the church defendants, including (1) La Sierra University, (2) the Pacific Union Conference, (3) the North American Division, (4) Ricardo Graham, president of the Pacific Union Conference, (5) Dan Jackson, president of the North American Division, and (6) Larry Blackmer, NAD Vice President for Education.

The case arose out of events that occurred when Jackson and Blackmer met with the La Sierra faculty on April 20, 2011, to explain that, because of concerns about the school's pedagogy on origins—they were teaching Darwinism as truth—the school's Adventist accreditation through AAA would be extended for only two years, not the typical five years (AAA accreditation was recently extended for an additional three years, through 2016). Lenny Darnell, a member of the Board of Trustees, also attended that meeting and recorded it on his smart phone.

After the meeting, Darnell drove to the home of James W. Beach, then the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Jeffrey M. Kaatz, then Vice-President for Advancement, and Gary L. Bradley, a semi-retired professor in the Biology Department, also came over to Beach's home. The men were discussing the faculty meeting and the LSU situation generally, and drinking an adult beverage (which turned out to be “Green Spot Whiskey”). Darnell forgot to stop the recording after the faculty meeting, and inadvertently recorded this discussion, which was disparaging to the church, Jackson, Blackmer, and several others. Darnell then widely disseminated the recording, and it found its way into the hands of Larry Blackmer; Blackmer became aware of the informal conversation at the Beach house, and arranged for that portion of the recording to be transcribed.

Larry Blackmer gave the recording and transcript to Dan Jackson, who gave them to Ricardo Graham. In a meeting at Randal Wisbey's office, Graham demanded the resignations of Beach, Kaatz, and Bradley. Bradley resigned outright (he had officially retired in 2008), Beach resigned his deanship (but not his faculty status) and Kaatz resigned his Vice-presidency (but not his faculty status). LSU's Board of Trustees later accepted the resignations and ratified Graham's actions. But Beach, Kaatz and Bradley sued Graham, Blackmer, Jackson, the PUC, the NAD and LSU.

Michael Peabody recently analyzed the case and concluded that the plaintiffs' claims really depended upon the theory that La Sierra is separate from the rest of the church. If La Sierra is viewed as a separate and independent entity, then the church officers unlawfully interfered in the operation of La Sierra. But all of the defendants, including La Sierra and Randal Wisbey, took the position in their sworn testimony that although it has many schools and constituencies, and several levels of organization, the SDA Church is all one indivisible, united church, and it operates the schools to further its mission. So when Blackmer, Jackson and Graham took the steps they took, they were not unlawfully interfering with a separate entity, but were trying to keep a part of the church in line with the behavioral standards and religious mission of the church, which is what they are paid for and have a duty to do.

Apparently the Riverside County Superior Court agreed.

Beach, Kaatz and Bradley may choose to appeal this judgment. If they do, litigation will continue for a year or more at the appellate level. But the trial that had been scheduled for next month is off calendar indefinitely, and there may never be a trial. For the time being, the church has won this lawsuit.

First and last name are required when leaving a comment. Please read our comment policy before leaving a comment. Comments