Motion filed to unseal records involving former Deacon at Columbia church

John Gleason Hubner (Source: Department of Corrections)

The plaintiffs in a recent lawsuit against the First Baptist Church of Columbia are motioning to unseal court records involving a former Deacon's sexual crimes.

The motion was filed on October 9 by "Joel Doe," a minor, and Doe's parents, who filed a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse from a former church group leader on October 10.

Doe is motioning to unseal records regarding John Gleason Hubner, a former Deacon at First Baptist Church of Columbia who was found guilty of three counts of sexual lewd acts with a minor.

The motion addresses a specific case that involves a 12-year-old female. First Baptist Church and Pastor Wendell Estep are named as co-defendants in the case. The Court of Appeals reversed Hubner's conviction in the case of interest, but The Supreme Court of South Carolina reinstated his conviction.

Hubner received three 12-year sentences due to his crimes. He is currently housed at Allendale Correctional Institution and is eligible for parole on November 30 of this year.

The motion to unseal the court records is below. WARNING: Graphic Content

The motion states Doe and his parents attempted to access the records but were told they were sealed. The motion alleges no proof of the seal was given.

The reasoning for the motion is to discuss the church and Estep's role in sealing the case, stating, "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."

The church and Estep are named co-defendants with Hubner in three total cases, according to Richland County court records. The records in the other two cases are also sealed.

The motion states, "Defendant First Baptist Church of Columbia and Defendant Wendell Estep likely desired to shield themselves from the embarrassment of publicizing their involvement in failing to prevent the minor child's abuse" in regards to the case in question.

The lawsuit filed on October 10 says the First Baptist Church of Columbia "has been sued numerous times by children who have been sexually abused by Defendant First Baptist's employees, agents, and/or staff."

In a statement released Saturday afternoon regarding the new lawsuit, church spokesperson R. Bryan Barnes said:

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.
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