Menlo Park: Elder Tells All – 1
Readers of Ex-Jw.com who have been following this story know that on January 6, 2012 Federal Judge Maria-Elena James dismissed the lawsuit filed by two former elders of the Menlo Park (California) Kingdom Hall, Jonathan D. Cobb Sr. and Walter Arlen St. Clair. (See Menlo Park Kingdom Hall Lawsuit Dismissed .)
Since then a concurrent civil case filed in Superior Court at the state level by former elder and COBOE Jason Cobb has also been dismissed.
In an unexpected move, on March 19, 2012 Jason Cobb and his father, Jonathan Cobb Sr., filed a new and expanded federal lawsuit in San Jose, California. Even though they know that their lives as Jehovah’s Witnesses may be nearing an end, they remain convinced that they must expose the facts about the allegedly illegal steps the Watchtower has been willing to take to seize control of the Kingdom Hall where they once served as elders. They refuse to give up the fight in spite of the fact that their reputations as faithful and dedicated Jehovah’s Witnesses have been under constant attack and many of their lifelong Witness friends have apparently abandoned them.
Several weeks ago a person claiming to be a current member of the Menlo Park congregation contacted me. “This Kingdom Hall has changed so much in the last year,” she said, “it’s like we’re all living in some kind of nightmare, but not quite. I don’t think the brothers and sisters feel safe here anymore. We know things aren’t right the way they are now, but what can we do? Where can we go? We just want things to be the way they were before the Redwood City elders took over. A lot of us would go to another Kingdom Hall if we could, but we feel trapped.” When I asked if the original Menlo Park members support the Cobbs, she replied, “Deep down, I guess many of us do. We thought they were good brothers. But we really don’t know what is truth and what is lies. I know we’re not supposed to, but some of us have read your website, and what you say about what is going on sounds right. But how do we know if we can trust you? We don’t know you. We really don’t know what the truth is.”
To our readers: We can not judge whether the Watchtower Society, the local Regional Building Committee, or the defendants in this case have actually done anything wrong. The charges made in both the old and new lawsuits by the deposed former elders have not been confirmed by any court as of this date. Remember that people, and even corporations, “are innocent until proven guilty.” All we can do is compare how the Watchtower’s representatives have acted in their takeover of Menlo Park to what the Society has done to other Kingdom Halls throughout North America.
We invite our readers who are still faithful and active Jehovah’s Witnesses to comment on this case and our next few articles. All we can do is to ask active JWs to honestly look at what has happened to their own Kingdom Halls and assembly halls. Do you really understand how the Watchtower has become more like the Catholic Church? Do you realize that local Kingdom Halls originally built, paid for, and maintained by local members have become part of the Watchtower Society’s real estate holdings now worth billions of dollars – without any compensation to local congregations?
It is clear that the odds are still overwhelming against the former Menlo Park elders succeeding in their lawsuits. We’d love to see one or more competent attorneys step in to represent them and even those odds by presenting their case before the courts. It appears that their new lawsuit includes a request for monetary damages should they win their case (a “defect” in their original lawsuit, according to Judge James’ dismissal order). Qualified attorneys might be more interested in stepping in and helping out the plaintiffs if there is a possibility that they might be paid for their time and legal ability.
Let’s hope that both sides have a “fair day in court.” Maybe at some future date the Cobbs and Walter Arlen St. Clair can once again be accepted into the Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses as members in good standing. We hope that all involved, including the other members of the congregation at Menlo Park, can experience a true healing and the joy of fellowship that they once had.
The next series of articles will try to bring this case up to date. We’ll also try to stay on top of the newest federal lawsuit and post PDFs of those court filings as they become available.
We are going to let the former COBOE (primary elder) of the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall tell his own story. In part 2 of this series, Jason Cobb, called as a witness, gives his deposition on October 11, 2011 to the attorney representing the defendants in the original lawsuit. Although he is not a plaintiff in the case, he is very much a part of it because of his primary leadership role within the Kingdom Hall. The mood is dark, awkward, and very confrontational as Brother Cobb gives as good as he takes and refuses to allow the defense attorney, Anthony Smith, to bully him.
In part 3, Brother Jason Cobb gives his deposition to the plaintiffs. Representing that side of the case and asking the questions is Jason’s father, Jonathan Cobb Sr. As expected, the mood is entirely different and the questions are more accommodating. The payoff for the readers of Ex-JW.com is that you get the full back story – all the details – about what really happened in Menlo Park that eventually led up to the entire body of elders being removed, the takeover by the Redwood City elders, and the decision by two of the former elders to file a lawsuit in federal court.
As editor of Ex-JW.com, I hope that you will not only be enlightened, but entertained as you read these transcripts. When I first read these transcripts, it was like sitting at the back of a courtroom during a high-profile criminal case. In any case, I hope you will share your comments and opinions, no matter whose side you choose to take. I guarantee that you will get an education about what really goes on behind the scenes when the Watchtower Society begins to throw its weight around. You’ll see how corporate and personal politics can create turmoil and disruption within a quiet and rather nondescript little suburban Kingdom Hall.
Plaintiffs’ Request for Reconsideration of Dismissal of the Original Federal Lawsuit [PDF]