WOFFGATE-Stunning Developments in Rutherford County

This morning the Superior Courtroom was alive with action. There were several items on the docket which required plenty of attorneys. The session was scheduled to start at 9:30AM. I arrived at 9:15AM and met Matthew Fenner and his supporters in the foyer of the courthouse. We entered the room taking seats on the right side of the courtroom, most sitting toward the front. The only member of Word of Faith Fellowship (WOFF) present at that moment was Karel Reynolds. Soon, the others made their way in and the beehive of activity ebbed and flowed as attorneys milled in their area and onlookers took seats and spoke in hushed tones. The cameraman for WLOS Channel 13 waiting outside the courtroom door on hold for permission to film or take pictures.

About 9:50AM, Assistant District Attorney Garland Byers along with Josh Farmer approached the bench where the judge was setting up his computer for the session at hand. Probably, the permission for video was discussed and the judge agreed to rule on it soon. The activity continued as conversations in different corners buzzed with the issues at hand.

At 10:03AM, the court was called to order, all stood as Judge Marvin Pope entered and was seated. At last, we were beginning. I was in the front row and surely missed the ebb and flow of any dramas behind me. Much to my dismay, there were other court cases on the docket. Two defendants were heard and their cases processed. This only added to the overwhelming anticipation. Come on, let’s get rolling!

At 10:34AM- Mr. Byers steps off to the left side of his table, glancing down at documents and addressed the judge saying there were two matters before the court which were not on the docket. In order to brief the judge, the attorneys agreed to retire to the judge’s chambers and give the background of the matters at hand. Another wait… Again, hurry up and wait was the order of the day- normal for court sessions, right? Oh, the excitement was rising to a fever pitch, at least in my mind.

11:00AM, the attorneys for each party and the judge reentered the courtroom. Ray Farmer was called to the front. He was sworn in and took his place on the witness stand. From here, let me say again the acoustics were not great and I may miss what some others would consider important parts of the testimony. I may concentrate on something others may find as minute. But, at least, the hearing started.

Ray was dressed in a dark suit but did not shine with his customary smile. He was visibly concerned and seemed to be concentrating on every word from each attorney as he was questioned. Okay, he looked a little nervous. I totally get it. The questions came from Mr. Byers about Ray’s duties and his knowledge of the video security system at WOFF. Ray said he did have general oversight of the security system. He said the recording devices looped and recorded over the video every “three to four days.” He said there were five to six cameras on the outside of the church. Some at the entrance, the exit and the parking lot. The exact storage time was undetermined as the cameras were motion activated and on the weekend would require more storage. Mr. Byers asked Ray how long would it take to fulfill the requirements of the subpoena for the video. Ray replied about “two weeks.” Mr. Byers seemed pleased with the answer. He asked if there was anyone else involved with the video, Ray volunteered- Rafael Pagan. (Rafael did not attend the hearing.)

John Gresham defended WOFF in the matter of the subpoena. He hailed from Charlotte in a bright suit and lively bowtie. His demeanor was slow and deliberate appearing as a seasoned veteran of the battlefield. He questioned Ray, about what, I could not hear fully. He did not turn to the gallery, but kept his eyes fixed forward. Ray seemed to answer his questions to his satisfaction and he was told to step down after about ten minutes of testimony.

Next, the State called Karel Reynolds the stand. She was sworn in and identified as the director of the video ministry. (really?) She admitted to having oversight of “three to four cameras in the sanctuary.” (I want to know where was Brenda Davis? She “took hold” of this while I was there.) Karel was asked when the services were recorded and if the cameras were left on after the service was over. She said not every time. She was asked of there were any videos from the dates in question during the incident with Matthew? “No, I am not certain for that day…” Where are the videos stored? In the church office, she replied. How long do you keep them? I believe her reply was “one week.” There were more detailed questions about when the cameras were on. Mr. Byers also asked Karel how long to fulfill the requirement of the subpoena? “About two weeks.” Rafael’s name was mentioned again as another person involved in the video ministry. Mr. Gresham took his turn asking questions. The subject of Federal requirements to releasing school records came up and Karel said she was aware of those requirements. Karel was on the stand about ten minutes.

From here the discussions ebbed and flowed between the two attorneys and Josh Farmer weighing in as well. Mr. Byers argued that he wanted to see what the powerful prayer consisted of and he felt it was pertinent to the case. Mr. Gresham and Josh Farmer continued to question the relevance of what prayer looks like now having no direct connection to the night in question. Josh said what prayer looked like two and half years ago would be different from today. (Yes, I bet so.)

Concerning the request for Matthew’s school records which would be included in the subpoena in question, Byers pointed out that Matthew was in the courtroom and would sign a written release to allow his records to be turned over. Then, in a surprise move, Karel was returned to the stand for direct questioning from the judge. He wanted clarification as to when prayer may be recorded. When asked if this prayer could happen during a service, Karel replied, “not always.” Gresham was allowed to question and possibly Mr. Byers one more time.

The judge addressed the subpoena in parts. He said the request for video from January 2013, “they say there is none.” He did not strike this part of the subpoena. He left it open.

The judge allowed the request for video from July 1st through July 31st. He also allowed the third part reguarding any and all material concerning Matthew Fenner. There was mention of an “executive order,” which I did not fully understand. So, the subpoena lives.

Next, about 11:40AM, Garland Byers introduced the motion to disqualify all Tomblin, Farmer and Morris attorneys from representing any of the five defendants in the case. Right out of the gate, Josh spoke up to qualify that Adam Bartley, as of this morning, was represented by Attorney Denton from Burke County. (shocker…) Of course, this attorney was present but was new to the foray and only spoke once toward the end of the proceedings.

Garland called Attorney John Byrd to the stand. Attorney Byrd was sworn in and gave his qualifications as an expert witness in relation to the question at hand:- dual representation and its potential conflicts.

Byrd has forty years’ experience, mainly as criminal defense lawyer. He has served as counsel to the NC State Bar and had advised on cases involving dual representation and how to avoid conflicts. Such conflicts could in turn pollute the entire legal process for a certain trial.

Byers began by asking his opinion on dual representation. Byrd quickly answered he recommended to avoid it in order to avoid conflicts of interest. He stated he usually only represents one person. He was asked how many times in forty years had he witnessed dual representation, “Very few.” How likely are conflicts to develop in these cases? “Very likely.”

From here the exchanges between the three players- Byers, Farmer and Byrd segued into a mish mash of Byers asking questions of Byrd to point out the extreme caution needed whenever dual representation is considered. Josh forced Mr. Byrd into admitting he had actually represented more than one client in a proceeding. Mr. Byrd clearly outlined the special circumstances leading to the representation and that it was not ideal to repeat. All the while Josh Farmer is quoting this case law from the Fourth District and another case law from the NC State Supreme court. He gave it a lot of push. Frankly, he acted like the disqualification is equal to a sanction or a discipline. It is not. But, then again, behind closed doors for WOFF, it may be.
Attorney Byrd was allowed to step down after seemingly not satisfying Josh’s hunger for confirmation of his strategy to remain as counsel for the four WOFF members. Josh appeared to grow more desperate as the session progressed.

For the next part of the fray, Garland Byers explained how he came to the point of filing the motion to disqualify. He outlined in time sequence his efforts to extend professional courtesy to Mark Morris and Josh Farmer, first raising the issue in May. After reaching no positive resolution, he delivered a plea for Adam Bartley to Farmer. Once he realized the plea would not be presented, he filed the motion to disqualify base on present and future conflicts. In his explanation, he showed that even with Mr. Bartley having a new attorney, the conflict remains because of what Josh and Mark have learned from Mr. Bartley that otherwise opposing counsel would not know.

Byers summarized his impassioned, deliberate and well documented presentation by pointing out the State had to consider the public perception of the process at hand and was required to not only protect Matthew’s right’s but, had a duty to safeguard the rights of the defendants regardless if their counsel did or not. Thus he felt compelled to file the motion to disqualify.

By now, it was 12:15PM, my stomach let me know. I hoped the judge would recess and hear Josh’s next argument after lunch. No. We all remained in our seats as Josh began his next barrage of reasoning. After a brief moment of repose, Josh announced in a softer tone how the four remaining defendants have spent a “significant time” with him and built a “trust” the value of which could not be ignored . (not a direct quote) He went on to say there was no conflict and he has a waiver signed by each defendant waiving their right to obtain other counsel and concern with any future conflicts. He mentioned Adam Bartley’s affidavit in file which stated he was not guilty and neither were the other four.

At this, the judge seemed to receive a jolt of electricity and began engaging Josh in a heated exchange over two possible scenarios involving possible future conflicts. Josh went back on his heels and appeared stunned, ready to agree and fold. He then stoutly said no, we could only consider what Bartley said in his affidavit. He resolutely denied the judge full agreement. Well, then he turned about 150 degrees and said he had advised Robert Lewis Walker to consider other counsel, but after conferring with the three remaining defendants- Brooke, Sarah and Justin; they agreed to retain Tomblin, Farmer and Morris.

The shock rolled over me. Now, there were only three left in the pot to decide on. Was this part of the strategy all along? Keep those who were closest to Jane? Or were there other reasons to keep them? Could it be because they know more? This stunning admission by Josh Farmer came at 12:27PM.
Josh presented the signed waivers of conflict about 12:34PM. One document presented to the judge said in these cases, one should rely on “common sense.” Uh, Yeah. That is what Garland has been saying all along. Josh presented the judge with a host of other documents. He claimed to have three opinion letters from attorneys saying they saw no conflict in the representation. (Who were the three attorneys?) Appearing disheveled at times, Josh did in the end present an extensive array of documents to support his case.

In closing Garland Byers brought out the conflict with Deeds of Trust using land owned by WOFF. Just how that conflict would be resolved was not discussed.

Finally, in a closing bomb shell. Josh Farmer pointed out to the judge he was not an employee of WOFF and was not their counsel. That is right. I nearly fell out of my chair. Such a greasy lawyer thing to say. Why was he arguing the case defending WOFF members? How many videos are there in the Internet of him speaking on behalf of WOFF?

After allowing the new attorney for Bartley to speak, the judge closed by saying he would let them know his ruling. The bailiff announced the court would resume at 2:30PM. I went back at 2:30Pm and the judge has not issued a ruling.

WOW. What a day. I did not hear it all; I did not write it all. I probably missed some key points which other folks remember. The subpoena stands and no parts were closed. The information must be delivered by August 17th. The Motion to Disqualify was robustly debated and the ruling should be this week. It appears difficult for the judge to issue a ruling allowing Josh and his crew to represent any of the defendants. The main reason is included in Josh’s own closing. The “significant time and relationship” developed, which must include the transfer of critical information, this is EXACTLY why all defendants must be allowed new counsel. Josh would have privileged information in a way detrimental to any other defendants represented by other counsel. In my opinion, he and all his crew should be disqualified from any participation in this trial going forward. Agree?

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Thank you, for taking time to visit and read this blog. Please, consume the information on this site responsibly. The author is not a licensed mental health professional and encourages those that need professional help to seek it. The intent of the material is to inform and be a resource. Be sure to tell every member that you know at WOFF about this blog. There are readers at WOFF. Jane told me and Josh confirmed it.

Comments are invited from all readers, including present or former members. Polls are not scientific and no private information is gathered.
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Scripture references are Amplified Version unless otherwise noted. (Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation ) This is post number 527

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2 thoughts on “WOFFGATE-Stunning Developments in Rutherford County”

  1. They need to not allow woff lawyers. Get this case rolling already! We are all paying close attention especially here in cali….

  2. Summer,
    Thank you for reading and adding your thoughts…The Summer of Decision is heating up and the rest of the year is predicted as hotter than normal… 🙂

    John

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