Editorial: Questions on the Fenner case

woff disqualThursday is a big day in court in the Matthew Fenner and the five defendants from the Word of Faith Fellowship (WoFF) case. The “first appearance” of three defendants, Brooke Covington, Justin Covington, and Sarah Covington Anderson, who had their lawyers disqualified, will be made again and should settle their legal counsel situation.

However, Tomblin, Farmer and Morris, P.L.L.C. and associates (the disqualified firm) are seeking to appeal and have the judge reconsider his order to disqualify them for conflicts of interest. The same judge, Marvin Pope who heard the disqualification motion and ordered them off the case, will now hear the motion for him to reconsider. SMH (shaking my head.) The State will argue there is NO appeal eligible until after a verdict is given.

woff defend
WoFF Defendants

Now, given that Judge Pope ordered the lawyers off the case on August 6, 2015  and they still filed 33 represented acts on the behalf of the defendants after that date makes me wonder what part of “off the case” did they not understand. Still, I am not an attorney and do not profess to know the law. However, some of my more learned friends do.

They told me that in cases such as the August 3, 2015 hearing for disqualification that the Judge actually had the power to disbar the attorneys for ethical conflicts of interest. The gravity of conflicts of interest weighs heavy on a law firm in a small community.

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They also said that each of the disqualifed attorneys’ 33 violations of the judge’s order to no longer represent the WoFF defendants could result in 30 days of jail time for each contempt of court charge.

Let’s see – that is almost 3 years of jail time for simple contempt of court for the attorneys. That is probably more time than any of the defendants, if convicted, would serve.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor is asking to revoke the bail for one of the five defendants in this case-Adam Bartley. Bartley is facing additional charges for an incident after he was first indicted for this case. The State contends, with his prior record, and with these additional charges that his bond should be revoked.

Matthew Fenner
Matthew Fenner

Thursday is just another round in the continuing story of Matthew Fenner’s case. He made a statement that he was assaulted and kidnapped, and had one defendant attempt to strangle him in a powerful prayer session due to his sexual orientation. Then Fenner had a catch-22 situation between the sheriff’s office and the magistrates when he attempted to file charges.

The case became further complicated when the outgoing District Attorney convened a special meeting of the Grand Jury to hear that case. Improprieties in those procedures resulted in the new District Attorney, Ted Bell, re-indicting the defendants in January.

For these and so many other reasons, the Fenner case is worthy of close watching. On yet another level, it opens up other questions. Did the church’s practice of loud prayer overreach and result in the assault and kidnapping of a young man?

And at what point does freedom of religion cross over into criminal action?