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Trinity escapes 'vexatious litigant' label — for now

Writer: Teri Sforza | 18 September 2012 |

Colorful federal judge David O. Carter threatened to brand the mighty Trinity Broadcasting Network a "vexatious litigant" and forbid it from filing more lawsuits against the granddaughter of Trinity's founders — but he won't.

At least, not right now.

But the broadcaster had better behave, or it could get worse thanthe legal equivalent of a public spanking.

"Plaintiff Trinity has brought, either directly or through its corporate agents, at least six lawsuits against Michael and Brittany (Koper) since terminating them on September 30, 2011," Carter (left) wrote in a recent minute order. "Curiously, although Plaintiff Trinity had already filed the sixth case five days prior to this Court's status conference on July 24, 2012, Plaintiff Trinity did not reveal this sixth case when this Court asked Plaintiff Trinity … about its seemingly harassing litigation strategy."

Trinity has demanded expedited rulings on its many motions, Carter noted. It did not explain why it continued to file case after case against Brittany and Michael Koper, rather than seek to amend earlier complaints.

"Plaintiff Trinity argues that all its cases have merit and thus are not frivolous," Carter wrote. "Plaintiff Trinity has lodged five binders totaling over 1,500 pages documents to support this argument. However, Plaintiff Trinity makes no argument as to why its six duplicative lawsuits filed in three different fora — Orange County Superior Court, Central District of California, and the Eastern District of New York — are not harassing. Because a litigant may be deemed vexatious if it is 'frivolous or harassing,' this Court concludes that Plaintiff Trinity has failed to show that it is not a vexatious litigant."

Here Carter adopts the stern-parent, I’ll-give-you-one-more-chance-but-then-you’re-grounded tone.

"Nonetheless, this Court will refrain from designated Plaintiff Trinity as a vexatious litigant at this time," he wrote — because it doesn’t appear that Trinity has filed any more cases against the Kopers since he called it on the carpet in July.

"However, the Court ORDERS that if Plaintiff Trinity ever again files a another lawsuit against either Brittany or Michael while this Court has jurisdiction … Trinity shall:

(1) file a brief of not more than 3 pages with this Court explaining why Plaintiff Trinity chose to file a new case rather than seek to amend its pleadings … and

(2) file a copy of this Order accompanying the complaint in the newly-filed case.

"Finally, the Court ORDERS Plaintiff Trinity to file a copy of this Order in all the cases mentioned in this Order which are not under this Court's jurisdiction."

Which means that the other judges with Trinity v. Koper cases before them will know exactly what Carter is thinking about Trinity's prodigious legal maneuverings.

We've been telling you about the battles raging at Orange County-based Trinity — battles which are splintering a family, and putting the reputation of the world's largest Christian broadcaster on the line.

First, the cast of characters:

The Kopers had worked for Trinity while finishing up law and graduate school, then were promoted to the prominent jobs of finance director and secretary in 2011.

They say they tried to clean house but were thwarted, and have accused Trinity of playing fast and loose with the ministry's millions, including unlawfully distributing more than $50 million to family members, buying a $50 million jet through "a sham loan to an alter ego corporation" for the personal use of the Crouches, as well as a $100,000 motor home for Jan Crouch's dogs, falsely reporting "multiple residential estates" as guest homes or church parsonages to avoid income disclosures; and a good deal more.

Trinity says it's all untrue and paints a very different picture. It accuses the Kopers of engaging in an inflammatory smear campaign to divert attention from their own financial sins against Trinity — including stealing some $1.3 million during their years of employ, as well as a trove of privileged documents that they're inserting into the court record in "dribs and drabs" in an attempt to blackmail and destroy the network. The Kopers are "revealing in distorted fashion confidential client files and … publishing their contents recklessly in this action to the media as part of a 'hush money' extortion campaign against TBN," Trinity said in court filings.

Each side has reported the other to the authorities, including local police and the Internal Revenue Service. The assertions could cast a cloud on Trinity’s nonprofit, income-tax-exempt status – which, if lost, could cost it tens of millions of dollars per year.

In a related matter — proceeding on a separate track — Brittany Koper’s little sister, Carra Crouch, is also suing Trinity. Her complaint — originally filed by Michael Koper, Brittany's husband and Carra's brother-in-law — alleges that Carra Crouch was plied with alcohol and raped by a TBN employee when she was just 13 – and that her family covered up the incident, rather than report it to authorities, to protect TBN's reputation. The latest on that suit is here.

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