This week marks the 4th anniversary of my first post on the FBC Jax Watchdog blog, posted on August 30th, 2007. That would make the Watchdog 28 in dog-years.
I appreciate all of the readers who have contributed to the blog. After 4 years the blog has steadily grown in readership, now at about 59,000 views per month, over 1.5 million views total. To date I have published over 600 articles.
I hear from readers via email regularly at churches who do support and appreciate my efforts on this blog to expose some of the crazy, abusive, sometimes humorous antics of pastors in the SBC and elsewhere. On the other hand I know many of you don't like me, think I'm recalcitrant, hateful, etc. But that is OK, the more I read about and understand modern organized religion, the more I understand why some of you hate this blog so much. But I will keep writing, and I'll keep giving you a forum to disagree with me and even tell me how evil I am.
I thought I would take this opportunity to give an update on the lawsuits that were filed by myself and my lawyer as the result of the events back in the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009 surrounding the revelation of my identity. And I wanted to give you one of the most shocking facts that came out of the first lawsuit that you will find quite amazing - even more shocking than the revelation that the detective pulling subpoenas was on the church's discipline committee at the time he pulled the subpoenas.
Lawsuit Against City and Sheriff's Office
Those of you that have followed this blog have known that two lawsuits were filed back in the summer of 2009 shortly after the front page news story of the police investigation that uncovered my identity. One was a federal First Amendment lawsuit against the city of Jacksonville and the sheriff's office and the state attorney's office , and another against Mac Brunson and FBC Jax for the statements made by the pastor to the Times Union reporter.
The first lawsuit against the city and state attorney was over the Google and Comcast subpoenas issued in late 2008 by a detective who was a member and employee of the church, and who also was a deacon and a member of the discipline committee that sought my identity. If ever there was a conflict of interest in a detective pulling subpoenas, it was this case.
After a lengthy discovery period involving many interrogatories and depositions, and after depositions revealed the detective was not just a member and employee but also on the discipline committee of the church at the time of the subpoenas, the city settled the lawsuit with a cash settlement and an agreement by the sheriff's office to train their detectives on first amendment issues involving Internet speech (the training bulletin was completed and issued last December - read about it here). There was quite a bit of media coverage of the police investigation and subsequent First Amendment lawsuit; even Jonathan Turley, legal scholar and TV commentator chimed in on the lawsuit here and here.
Lawsuit Against Pastor and FBC Jax
There still is a civil lawsuit against Mac Brunson and FBC Jax over the words of Mac Brunson as quoted in the Times Union in 2009. There have been several motions filed in the case, but the bottom line is it is still working its way through civil court and a trial date has been set for May 2012. I have no more updates than this.
A Shocking Fact About the Watchdog's Identity
Lastly, I thought I'd take this opportunity to share one of the most shocking facts about this blog and my identity that most of you don't know. This fact was one of the first significant revelations that the defense helped bring to light in the federal First Amendment case last year.
Here it is: Mac Brunson and his office were told of my identity months before the subpoenas. They were told who the FBC Jax Watchdog was in the summer of 2008.
All of his hullabaloo, and the subpoenas weren't even necessary to find who I was.
As revealed during testimony in the case, one of the members of my extended family, with the best of intentions, sent an anonymous letter identifying me as the owner of the Watchdog blog during the summer of 2008, about 2 or 3 months before the detective opened his investigation. This family member was worried about what the church leadership would do to me or my wife and family if they found my identity, so they mailed a hand-written letter to Mac Brunson, identifying me as the Watchdog blogger, requesting that he reach out to me and visit me and answer my questions. I had no idea that this person sent this email - until they were under oath in the federal lawsuit almost two years later and admitted they were the ones that sent the letter.
Why is this so shocking? Let me explain. I do remember reporter Jeff Brumley sharing with me in April 2009 just before he published his front page article on this case, that someone at the church - I believe it was Brunson himself - told Brumley that they knew who I was all along because they had received a letter from one of my relatives the year prior!
But apparently, if we are to believe the testimony in the First Amendment case, the Brunson's decided never to act on the letter, and decided not to share this letter with anyone. The detective/discipline committee member didn't mention it in his deposition so apparently he didn't know about its existence. He said he had no where to start when looking for the blogger so he had to immediately issue subpoenas as a first step. John Blount admitted in the paper that he wanted to know where the blog was coming from so he went to the police. But his own pastor, his boss, had the key piece of evidence - a letter stating who the Watchdog was!
John Blount's testimony was that once Detective Hinson told him the results of the subpoena, that I was the blogger, Blount said he knew me and my family, that I was no threat, and he instructed Detective Hinson to close his investigation. Then two weeks later, Blount was on my doorstep delivering my letter of 16 sins and trespass papers for me and the Mrs. Two weeks after that, Blount filed official trespass papers against me and my wife with the sheriff's office for the dastardly offense of "church misconduct".
Here is perhaps the most puzzling aspect of this letter: the defense had to make a case that Detective Hinson was actually doing a real investigation when he pulled the subpoenas, and not merely doing a favor for his pastor and the discipline committee he served on. So their argument was that the blog was viewed as a threat, and the blogger might be a threat to the safety of the pastor and staff. Allegations of mail stealing and photographing the pastor's wife were thrown around for good measure. But the letter throws a wrench into that argument - because if the Brunsons viewed the blogger as a threat - why when you get a letter identifying the dirty rotten scoundrel don't you immediately call the police, or at least share it with the discipline committee so they could do one of their own crack investigations?
I will provide updates on the second lawsuit as it progresses.
Thanks again to my readers for reading and contributing to the blog these past 4 years.