Law firm representing minor in First Baptist Church case releases statement
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) —
The lead attorney representing "Joel Doe" in the lawsuit against First Baptist Church of Columbia released a statement on Tuesday afternoon.
John Simmons of Simmons Law Firm released the following statement on the lawsuit, as well as the motion to unseal court records involving the church and Pastor Wendell Estep:
A key complaint in this case centers on the church officials’ failure, for over a year, to notify parents of children who had contact with the youth minister who sent these outrageous messages and the church officials’ continuing failure to report the conduct to law enforcement. We hope the motions to unseal records that have been kept secret for over 10 years, together with the lawsuit, will bring transparency to the cloak of secrecy imposed by the defendants.
Doe and his parents filed a lawsuit against the church, Estep, student minister Philip Turner, and former small group leader Andrew McCraw on October 10.
Simmons, along with John Warren III and Derek Shoemake, also filed a motion to unseal court records involving the church, Estep, and former Deacon John Hubner.
The motion alleges the church and Estep wanted to seal the records about Hubner's sex crimes to hide their role in the matter, saying, "it seems that Defendants First Baptist Church and Wendell Estep have prioritized the potential injury to their reputation over the right for the public to access public records, as they have successfully obtained seals in two other cases."
First Baptist Church of Columbia released this statement on Sunday through R. Bryan Barnes:
Last fall First Baptist Church became aware of allegations of inappropriate conduct by an unpaid volunteer in the student ministries department.
As church policy dictates, the appropriate committee investigated. The committee concluded the volunteer violated church policies.
Disciplinary action was taken. The volunteer no longer attends First Baptist Church and was prohibited from further contact with our students.
The student making the allegations filed a lawsuit Tuesday.
Additionally, First Baptist Church respects the privacy of the parties involved in the cases arising from the John Hubner incident in 2002. Even so, First Baptist Church does not oppose unsealing those cases.
Our attorneys have advised us to make no further comment at this time.