Back in 2009 I pledged to keep my readers informed of the lawsuits that came from the 2008 Jacksonville Sheriff's Office investigation of my blog.
Today I am giving a long overdue update.
As my long-time readers know, back in the fall of 2008 a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective opened an investigation to find the identify of the FBC Jax Watchdog blogger. The detective - who happened to also be an FBCJ member, employee, deacon, and discipline committee member, issued subpoenas to Google, Inc. and Comcast to obtain my name. He never conducted a legitimate investigation, testifying he interviewed no one, and handed my name to the FBC Jax church administrator John Blount, and then promptly closed the investigation at Blount's request.
Once the FBC Jax holy men had my name, they commenced the disciplinary process established in their bylaw changes of December 2007, issuing trespass warnings to me and my wife and demanding a meeting before their disciplinary tribunal. No meeting took place, and a deacon's resolution was passed in February 2009 condemning "unjust criticism" on the Internet. Judge A.C. Soud read the resolution, and the congregation stood and confirmed it.
They thought that was the end of the matter. Blogger gone, resolution passed, and not a soul would find out what the detective/discipline committee member had done to find my identity.
But in April 2009, religion Times Union reporter Jeff Brumley was reading my blog and saw the trespass warnings I had posted, and he ultimately discovered my name from JSO records. He interviewed me and church and city officials and wrote a news article about the investigation which appeared on the Times Union front page on April 9, 2009.
The actions of the detective resulted in a federal first amendment lawsuit that was settled at mediation in the fall of 2010, with a cash settlement and the sheriff's office agreeing to train their detectives on first amendment implications of investigative subpoenas. As a part of the settlement we were given a face-to-face meeting with our sheriff to voice our concerns over the actions of the FBC Jax detective, and we were assured steps would be taken to ensure that this would not happen again. Probably the biggest victory for us came months before, in April 2010, when federal judge Marcia Morales Howard affirmed the first amendment protection of anonymous speech in denying the defense's motion to dismiss.
But there was a second lawsuit we filed in 2009, which had to do with the statements made by Mac Brunson, our former pastor, that were printed in the April 2009 front page news story about the detective's investigation into our blog.
Now in February 2012, the discovery process in this 2nd lawsuit is underway. The first depositions were taken this morning - Mac Brunson and John Blount - with more to come in the next month. My deposition will be taken the first part of March. There is an important hearing regarding a motion for summary judgment and another regarding punitive damages, sometime at the end of March, with the trial scheduled in the spring or early summer.
We learned from the first lawsuit that the discovery process can be very painful and draining. We expect this second lawsuit process to be no different. And from the testimony given this morning by Mac Brunson and John Blount, we know we're in for a hard, ugly fight as the pastor and the church defend his awful statements about me made in the paper, but we are committed to seeing this through to the end.
And when it is all over, I fully intend to write about the depositions and discovery and the upcoming trial to give my readers a behind-the-scenes look at church legal tactics in defending the indefensible. I will do my best to keep my readers informed of progress during the discovery period and the coming trial.
In the meantime, as I wrote back in 2010:
I am committed to continuing writing my views on this blog, regarding matters at FBC Jax and evangelical Christianity, unabated and not intimidated, and with the aid of my lawyer I will continue the fight in this lawsuit.