A lawsuit over a website's accusation of child sexual abuse by a minister in Fenton stalled in limbo Friday on a narrow point of law.
The lawyer for the Rev. James D. Manning, pastor of Solid Rock Ministries, has filed a subpoena trying to learn who posted the material online. But that has remained secret because the Internet address was purchased confidentially through a company called Domains by Proxy.
At a hearing on the John Doe site owner's motion to quash the subpoena, he was represented in St. Louis County Circuit Court by Ken Chackes and three other lawyers. That led Mark Goodman, one of Manning's lawyers, to announce he was withdrawing the subpoena, because he could now press the damage suit against Doe through his lawyers.
But Doe's lawyers moved to thwart that strategy, insisting they were hired only to represent Doe in the subpoena issue, not the lawsuit. After several minutes, both sides agreed to disagree, for now.
Manning is accused on the site — protectkidsfromclergypredators.com — of abusing a girl for years, starting when she was 12. His suit accuses the site of intentional infliction of emotional distress but does not deny the underlying accusation.
The website includes information from a 2003 suit against Manning and his church.
According to the court file, Manning was dropped as a defendant from the suit the same day that the girl was the sole witness in a brief bench trial. Based on her accusations against Manning, the judge found in favor of the victim and against the church, for $500,000.
Goodman emphasized Friday that the outcome was a court judgment, not a mutual settlement. The parties to the case did later agree that the victim would only seek the $250,000 available under the church's insurance policy, court files show.
Outside the courtroom Friday, Goodman told Doe's lawyers, "We could do this the hard way or the easy way." Then he spotted bystanders, including a reporter, and suggested that the attorneys talk later.
Chackes told a reporter that Doe's lawyers have not yet decided whether to continue to argue that they do not represent Doe in the suit, to do something to clarify the issue or to simply file an answer to the suit. He said he thinks the suit is without merit and raises important First Amendment issues about the posting of information from public court documents.
BY ROBERT PATRICK, firstname.lastname@example.org