Church members sue for legal fees

Digital Courier/August 4, 2005
By Jerry Stenland

Spindale -- Attorneys representing Sarah and Rachael Almanie and WOFF ministers Kent and Brooke Covington and are requesting reimbursement for their clients of $273,000 in legal expenses.

The motion involves legal proceedings not including the federal case for which a settlement was reached including the original Rutherford County Department of Social Services suit to remove the Muse children from the Covington home, the appeal of the case and the emancipation proceedings for the two Almanie girls.

The DSS case was overturned on appeal and the Almanie's attorney Philip Roth stated in the motion that because of that ruling his clients are entitled to reimbursement of legal expenses.

The Almanies are the daughters of Shana Muse, a former WOFF member who has been unsuccessful in getting custody of her children from the Covingtons, who are not related to the children.

Muse left the children with the couple while she went to the Wellspring Retreat in Ohio to recover from the what Muse called the cult programming of WOFF.

DSS contends that the various legal proceedings are essentially part of the same overall legal effort and the federal case settlement should be in force.

"Three of the attorneys seeking fee recovery represented the Word of Faith in their litigation against DSS," the agency's statement on the settlement says. "While the cases have different named parties, the matters are undeniably related and the time sheets for the attorneys indicated that they were all working together on issues for Word of Faith. Rutherford County strongly contends because of the related nature of this matter to the prior litigation, this demand for attorneys fees and costs arguably violates the spirit of the prior agreement if not the letter of that agreement."

David Goldstein, one of the attorneys whose billings are listed in the motions, said the action was separate from the federal suit.

"They may be embarrassed, but I don't think there is any possible legal basis to claim the Covington fee petition or the Almanie girls' fee petition is covered by this settlement agreement," said Goldstein.

Papers filed with the motion show multiple pages of attorney billings totaling more than $328,000.

Roth shows a total billing of almost $72,000.

Phillip Jackson represents the Covingtons and also listed expenses from three attorneys including Goldstein from the New York firm, Frank Jackson and Thomas Hix.

Phillip Jackson shows bills totaling $35,423; Frank Jackson $24,169; Hix $102,375 and Goldstein's firm $94,436.

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