- Overview of Lawsuit Filing and Disposition ~ February – July 2012 ~ Citizen Media Law Project
- Creating a Case Study on Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith ~ by Brad Sargent
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Overview of Lawsuit Filing and Disposition
~ February – July 2012 ~ Citizen Media Law Project ~
The following description of the lawsuit’s filing, documents, and disposition comes from the Citizen Media Law Project page on Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith. It provides an excellent overview to the entire case. See their page on this lawsuit for sections on Summary, Parties, Description (cut-and-pasted below), Details, and Court Information and Documents.
Here are the six primary documents referred to in the Summary provided by Citizen Media Law Project. Reading these is essential to understanding the core contentions in the lawsuit, the line of reasoning for each side in the conflict, and why the arguments of the plaintiffs did not pass muster.
- February 22, 2012. Plaintiffs file their original Complaint (8 pages).
- April 26, 2012. Plaintiffs file their Amended Complaint (10 pages). It contains 27 allegations of defamation against five defendants – the same four as in the original Complaint, plus Meaghan Varela (4 allegations). With Julie Anne Smith, 4 of the original allegations were dropped, and 10 added for her additional blog posts since the lawsuit was filed, for a final total of 17.
- April 26, 2012. Defendants file Motions to Strike (i.e., an anti-SLAPP action) and related Memo in Support of Special Motions to Strike (54 pages).
- May 01, 2012. Defendants file Memo in Support of Special Motions to Strike regarding Amended Complaint (24 pages).
- May 14, 2012. Plaintiffs file Opposition to Motion to Strike (13 pages). After filing their Opposition document, the plaintiffs dropped from the list of defendants Jason Stephens (on May 16) and Kathy Stephens (on or about May 29).
- July 23, 2012. Judge Jim L. Fun issues his Order on Motion to Dismiss (8 pages).
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Creating a Case Study on
~ Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith ~
The purpose of the BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive is to present a time capsule of factual information about the dates, documents, and decisions in Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith, as well as curate reasoned analysis, invited commentary, and moderated public comments on this defamation lawsuit case.
Creating this case study on Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith called for a combination of very different academic disciplines, each of them using very particular types of critical thinking skills. The disciplines I drew on included:
- Archaeology and historiography skills to sift through events, piece them together, and reconstruct a reasonable chronology of what actually seems to have happened.
- Differential diagnosis skills (like those used on the House, M.D. TV program), to supply abstract reasoning and categorizing for “back-casting” – thinking backwards – to identify what surface symptoms are present and then figure out what past source problems they came from.
- Linguistics and strategic foresight/futurist skills to detect patterns and project them forward for reasoned speculation on where certain trends might lead us in the future.
- Logical and critical analysis skills to discern issues like facts versus opinions, observations versus conclusions, and provable issues versus personal assumptions.
- Literary analysis skills to consider the “storyline structure” of this situation’s history, including human elements, themes, plot lines, and narrative approaches.
Sound complicated? It was – partly because I began observing the events almost from the beginning of the lawsuit. So, I had 10 months of data to absorb, “process,” and figure out. Also, creating any case study also involves … well … a “creative” process. As we learn from Project Runway and other creativity-based reality TV competitions, a key to success in any such creative endeavor is found in the design process. It’s not just about pulling together information, it’s about selection and editing it in a way that fits the material. And when writing, it helps to have a framework or a “hook” that helps people grasp the material. (More on that shortly.)
The historical unfolding of the lawsuit during 2012 was easily accomplished. But the toughest part involved figuring out what was significant to include in terms of the history that led up to the lawsuit. A huge difficulty arose in Beaverton Grace Bible Church v. Smith because this particular defamation lawsuit has a mountain of information available.
The six main court documents alone total almost 110 pages of legalese reading! There were well over 100 online media news reports and blog posts about the case, many with dozens of comments and some with several hundred comments. The defendants had a place to post their views on Julie Anne Smith’s original BGBC Survivors blog. Both plaintiffs and defendants, and their supporters, posted at times on the BGBC Google Review page. And the plaintiffs generated a huge reservoir of verbal and written statements, both during and after the lawsuit, on at least three websites that they used regularly:
- Beaverton Grace Bible Church’s official church website.
- The BGBC sermonaudio dot com website, where Mr. O’Neal posts sermon podcasts and maintains a blog.
- And, the O’Neals activated their “true” BGBC Survivors dot org website in December 2012.
I did not enter this undertaking without bias. I tend to begin any study of situations where there is some indication of “spiritual abuse” as siding with the victims. It took weeks into the final production process for this Archive to find “the pathway into” the entire storyline in ways that made sense to me and that I felt would make it graspable for others. Finally I concluded that the best entry point or “hook” into this case. That framework turned out to be the plaintiffs’ allegations in the lawsuit itself. This let the plaintiffs tell their story of what they thought at the time were the most significant events and circumstances. Since they filed the defamation lawsuit, it made sense to me that their perspective should be the guiding force – at least for putting together an analysis of the case. However, part of what made all of this so confusing for me to work through is that the plaintiffs’ many statements outside of the court process turned out not so straightforward. Much of what they said and wrote had little direct relationship to allegations they filed in their court case. Why?
So, if, say, an alien from outer space dropped into Oregon in January 2013 and started its study of this court case just from all sources of online/blog content available as of December 2012, it would likely conclude there were three major bones of contention in this lawsuit:
- Google and DexKnows Reviews, blog posts, and blog comments about an allegedly spiritually abusive pastor and his church.
- Allegations that this pastor and his church allowed a known/suspected sex offender to have unsupervised interaction with other children at the church.
- Allegations that a former church member submitted a criminal, false report to the Oregon Department of Human Services/Child Protective Services on December 26, 2008, and that this resulted in investigations of the pastor and his adult son as alleged sex offenders. Also, the same person allegedly filed a report with DHS about another family who were congregation members, leading to an investigation of their minor son. Also, that she and another former church member continue to lie about these situations; and the two of them have done all this as retaliation for their friend who was fired in 2008 from his staff position at this church.
Okay, so if said alien then went back to the actual court documents, it would find a far different story.
- There were only 3 allegations out of 27 related to Google and DexKnows Reviews, and not one specific mention of them in relationship to the main defendant, Julie Anne Smith, who received 17 of the total 27 allegations. Maybe these Reviews weren’t as important as all the mid- and post-lawsuit publicity suggested, or perhaps the “main” defendant wasn’t all that major?
- The issue of the alleged known/suspected sex offender being unsupervised in the church only showed up in 4 allegations related to Ms. Smith, who had posted “messages” online about this.
- There was no mention at all in the plaintiffs’ allegations about this supposed false report about the pastor and his son being sexual offenders, though the person the plaintiffs claim to know filed the false report was one of the five defendants in the case, Meaghan Varela. Also, there was no mention by name of the friend who was fired from his staff position in 2008. The third major document from the plaintiffs mentions the other family investigated by DHS and includes a declaration from the wife/mother in this family. It turned out their minor son was eventually tried and convicted of sexual assault against his younger siblings. His mother’s declaration claims that the son was never left alone or unsupervised at any time, neither at home or at church.
It is a curious thing that MOST public statements by Mr. O’Neal during and after the lawsuit FOCUSED on issues and events and issues that were NOT at all present in either the original Complaint or the final Amended Complaint. Had the case gone to trial, it appears from outside-court statements by Mr. O’Neal that the plaintiffs would have brought up these other issues. But it may be that they failed to introduce them at the point in the legal process where they should have been brought up, according to the ground rules that the court is bound to operate with. And then, once the anti-SLAPP motion was introduced by the defendants to challenge the allegations on the ground of freedom of speech, that froze the legal process and kept the plaintiffs and defendants from gathering additional evidence through discovery, depositions, and examination of witnesses.
My conclusion: Many people who investigate this case may find themselves confused because what the plaintiffs stated outside the court process is so very different from what allegations they put into the court documents. I suggest studying the BGBC Defamation Lawsuit Archive events timeline, the media/blog reports timeline, and especially the court documents in comparison with the plaintiffs’ BGBC Survivors dot org website statements and videos. Decide for yourself what you think their perspective was/is, and whether they had “their day in court” – even if not in the way they may have expected – and whether the content of their so-called “true” BGBC Survivors website has provided them their day in the court of public opinion.
~ Brad Sargent
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