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A Curious Case of Christian "Values"

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Message Roger Shuler
The Peculiar "Values" of Briarwood Christian
What happens when you mix a corrupt justice system with politics, religion, and football in the Deep South?
Alabama blogger Roger Shuler has found that it produces a foul-smelling concoction. And Shuler produces evidence that indicates a large conservative Birmingham megachurch, Briarwood Presbyterian Church, intentionally tries to take advantage of judges who favor it in Shelby County, Alabama.
(Briarwood, by the way, is the founding church of the conservative and evangelical Presbyterian Church of America, PCA. It is not affiliated with the traditional Presbyterian Church U.S.A.)
Would a Christian church actually try to take advantage of judges who are willing to cheat other parties and favor the church? Consider Shuler's story:

I noted in a post a while back that I had evidence strongly suggesting that officials at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham know that Shelby County judges cheat on their behalf. And my evidence suggests that Briarwood officials try their best to take advantage of this.

What am I talking about? Well, it's a 2003 lawsuit filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court styled Dr. Charles Mayfield v. Briarwood Christian School. It contains some most interesting information that pertains to our Legal Schnauzer case.

First, a little background. In a number of earlier posts, I have noted the curious fact that my legal woes can be dated to a
peculiar real-estate transaction in which Briarwood Christian football coach Fred Yancey (my former neighbor) moved to a house on school property where he evidently lived pretty much free of charge. This transaction resulted in me having a new neighbor named Mike McGarity, who came complete with an extensive criminal record and quickly proceeded to trample on my property rights in a variety of ways.

The problems with McGarity escalated to the point that, when my wife and I fought to protect our property rights, he filed a bogus lawsuit against us. And Republican judges in Shelby County repeatedly made unlawful rulings, benefitting McGarity and his sleazy attorney, William E. Swatek.

I have noted that both Swatek and Circuit Judge J. Michael Joiner have ties to Briarwood school. And I have speculated that McGarity's lawsuit against me might have been a way to divert his attention from a legitimate case he might have had against someone connected to Briarwood as a result of the hastily done real-estate deal.

Shuler notes that ome readers have scoffed at the notion that Shelby County judges would act in ways that would protect the interests of Briarwood. But he says those readers might want to reconsider when they learn about the Mayfield case.

The Mayfield case is a classic personal-injury case. Dr. Charles Mayfield, who lived at the time in Jefferson County, was attending a youth soccer game on the Briarwood campus when he tripped over a wire and injured himself. Mayfield filed a lawsuit, stating that Briarwood was negligent in not removing the wire and had contributed to his injury.

Mayfield was represented by Craig Lowell, an attorney from the Birmingham firm of Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis. Briarwood was represented by Jennifer T. Dewees, who also is based in Jefferson County.

The lawsuit initially was filed against Briarwood Christian School. But the Briarwood side quickly filed a motion stating that the proper party for purposes of the lawsuit was Briarwood Presbyterian Church. For legal purposes, the school is a ministry of the church, so the case was restyled Mayfield vs. Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

While the school is in Shelby County, and the accident took place in Shelby County, Briarwood's own lawyer noted that the suit properly was against Briarwood Presbyterian Church, which is in Jefferson County.

Now here's where it gets interesting: I don't pretend to be an expert on jurisdictional law. A number of factors can come into play when deciding where a case should be heard. But the overriding factors seems to be this: The proper jurisdiction for a case usually is the county where the defendant is based.

In this case, that issue is easy: Briarwood Presbyterian Church, the defendant, is based in Jefferson County.

But what did the Briarwood attorney do? She filed a motion seeking to have the case moved to Shelby County.

Now why would she do that? My guess is that she was told to do it by someone in the Briarwood chain of command, someone who knew the school would get favorable treatment in Shelby County. And had the case gone to Shelby County, who would it have wound up before? My guess is J. Michael Joiner, but it probably wouldn't matter. My experience suggests that Joiner would ramrod the case according to his desires, regardless of the judge.

Here's another guess from your humble blogger: I suspect all of the lawyers, and the judge, in the Mayfield case knew what was going on with the motion to move the case. It's a poorly held secret in Birmingham legal circles that Shelby County judges favor certain attorneys and interests.

What would have happened to Mayfield's case if it had been moved to Shelby County? Shuler provides a clue:
Had the case been moved to Shelby County, Dr. Mayfield almost certainly would have gotten the shaft. His case would have been unlawfully dismissed, and had he chosen to appeal it, the Republican-packed appellate courts in Alabama would have affirmed the trial-court finding, almost certainly without a written opinion. In addition to being physically injured on Briarwood property, Dr. Mayfield would have suffered serious injuries to his wallet--to the tune of several thousand dollars. And Briarwood would have skated home free.

What was the outcome and what can we learn from this case about the Christian Right?
Mayfield's attorney wisely fought the change of venue, and the Jefferson County judge correctly ruled that the case would stay put. Court records indicate the case was settled. My guess is that Briarwood's insurer coughed up some cash to pay for Mayfield's injuries and his attorney fees.

What does this tale say about Briarwood Presbyterian Church? Here's what it tells me:

* Someone in the church's leadership knows the church will be legally protected in Shelby County.

* The church is more than happy to take advantage of this situation.

* If innocent people are harmed and/or cheated by Shelby County judges on Briarwood's behalf, the church evidently has no problem with that.

Kind of gives you the warm and fuzzies about Christian family values doesn't it?
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I live in Birmingham, Alabama, and work in higher education. I became interested in justice-related issues after experiencing gross judicial corruption in Alabama state courts. This corruption has a strong political component. The corrupt judges are (more...)
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