Is Trinity Broadcasting a ‘vexatious litigant’?
Writer:Teri Sforza | 29 August 2012 | taxdollars.ocregister.com/2012/08/29/is-trinity-broadcasting-a-vexatious-litigant/161375/
The mighty Trinity Broadcasting Network’s prodigious legal maneuvering against Brittany Crouch Koper — granddaughter of founders Jan and Paul Crouch — and her husband has drawn a sharp rebuke from a federal judge, who has threatened to brand Trinity a "vexatious litigant."
Welcome to David vs. Goliath, the legal version.
Vexatious litigation, for the record, is a legal action
"initiated maliciously and without probable cause by an individual who is not acting in good faith for the purpose of annoying or embarrassing an opponent."
Court records show six lawsuits against the Kopers by Trinity in Orange County Superior Court, U.S. District Court and New York state courts, each involving myriad actions.
"(T)hese cases appear to be duplicative," Judge David O. Carter said in court papers. "Plaintiff Trinity contends that it is simply trying to protect itself from scurrilous accusations of fraud by Michael and Brittany and to recover funds from their fraud. However, Plaintiff Trinity’s several lawsuits, incessant demands for injunctive relief, and insistence on expedited rulings suggest that Plaintiff Trinity’s strategy is to overwhelm the courts as well as Michael and Brittany so as to avoid a rational decision on the merits. Thus, Plaintiff Trinity’s litigation strategy only lends credence to Michael and Brittany’s contention that these lawsuits are retaliation for whistleblowing about Plaintiff Trinity’s extensive fraud."
By way of background: The Kopers accused the global Christian broadcasting empire of multiple financial misdeeds; the Kopers were accused of multiple financial misdeeds by Trinity; each has reported the other to various authorities; and, well, here we are. Trinity has 16 global television networks distributed on 76 satellites, multiple foreign and domestic affiliates, and thousands of cable affiliates on every continent save Antarctica, in its own words — not to mention nearly $1 billion in net assets.
"While I am a licensed attorney," Michael Koper wrote in federal court filings, "I have only been licensed for seven months and have absolutely no previous litigation experience…. My wife and I have been harassed with the excessive litigation and need help. We do not have the ability to properly litigate against TBN’s three law firms pro se."
Carter ordered Trinity to say why it should not be designated a vexatious litigant and forbidden from filing future lawsuits against the Kopers.
In its response — kept to the 10-page length that Carter said was the upper limit -- Trinity argued that it is simply trying to recover $1.3 million and confidential documents it says the Kopers stole during their years of employ.
Trinity "is not a vexatious litigant and has violated no laws in accessing the courts to vindicate its rights," its response says. Every complaint and motion has been driven by the Kopers’ conduct, and each has substantial merit; "If the Kopers will return the stolen records and confess to their undeniable fraud… all litigation can end," it said.
Trinity reported the Kopers to the O.C. District Attorney and Tustin police for alleged fraud, forgery and embezzlement early in the year.
"The evidence is overwhelming that the Kopers have feigned their whistle blowing claims which came after the criminal investigation was opened to divert attention from their substantial criminal and civil wrongs," it said.
The Kopers, meanwhile, say they did indeed get loans from Trinity, but that those loans were approved by Trinity executives and reported on public income tax returns.
Many of the more salacious details of Trinity’s alleged improprieties came to light in the course of other lawsuits involving Trinity, including an age discrimination case and a declaration Koper filed in support of Joseph McVeigh, her uncle by marriage, who was battling over a loan he received through Trinity. McVeigh’s suit was dismissed, and McVeigh has been ordered to pay Trinity’s court costs; that decision is on appeal.
Access to the courts is a fundamental tenet of our judicial system, and legitimate claims should receive a full and fair hearing no matter how litigious the plaintiff may be, Trinity argues. Plus, vexatious litigants are by definition individuals, not corporations, so "as a matter of law (Trinity) cannot be declared vexatious," it said.
Judge Carter has not made a decision yet.
In February, Koper has accused the mighty Christian broadcaster of playing fast and loose with the ministry’s millions, and soon provided internal documents to back up her claims. Extravagant meal, hotel and limousine costs — along with personal expenses charged to the company — were pervasive issues for Trinity, an internal review said; and irregularities included the purchase of a $50 million jet through "a sham loan to an alter ego corporation" for the personal use of the Crouches; a $100,000 motor home purchased by Trinity as a mobile residence forJan Crouch’s dogs; "multiple residential estates" falsely reported as guest homes or church parsonages to avoid income disclosures; meal expenses of up to a half-million dollars per company director; "personal chauffeurs compensated with Trinity funds under the guise of medical payments;" and "multiple cover-ups of sexual and criminal scandals," according to court documents.
Trinity says those allegations are false, and are designed to divert attention from the Kopers’ own wrongdoings.
We’ll keep you posted on how this proceeds.