Menlo Park Kingdom Hall – Updates

March 29th, 2011

Since the previous article about the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall court case was published two weeks ago, I’ve received some updates and a few corrections.

Corrections

The city limits of East Palo Alto, CA: One writer pointed out that the city limits of East Palo Alto do extend a few blocks west of the Bayshore Freeway (US 101). In the article I wrote, “Its [Menlo Park's] eastern edge, the Bayshore Freeway (US 101), separates it from the community of East Palo Alto.”

While I was making the point that the freeway separates the “cultures” and the “economic status” of the two cities, I should have made it clearer where the real city limits are. Those sections of East Palo Alto that do fall on the west side of the freeway are more akin to the cities of Menlo Park and Palo Alto. That does not change the fact that the freeway clearly acts as a wall between the two communities in more ways than simple geography. That’s why I added the line, “The Bayshore Freeway and Santa Clara County Airport act as effective barriers, separating a wealthier Palo Alto from its much poorer neighboring city.”

The Kingdom Halls of Redwood City: Redwood City lies directly north and west of Menlo Park. It now has two Kingdom Halls. One is in the northwest section of the city (631 Iris Street) that is the home to two congregations, “North Redwood City” and “South San Mateo.” Both have predominately white, English-speaking members.

Redwood City's Iris Street Kingdom Hall

The Circuit Overseer involved in this court case, Paul Koehler, lives in a home next to this Kingdom Hall. Donations from the congregations he serves probably cover most of his expenses while he lives in that home.

The second Kingdom Hall is known as “South Redwood City.” I wrote: “[South] is now the home for two or three Spanish-speaking congregations.” I’ve been told that it actually services four Spanish-speaking congregations. It’s at 681 2nd Avenue.

Threats to a former Menlo Park elder: I wrote: “Jon Cobb Sr., one of the plaintiffs, allegedly received threats against himself and his family. It’s been reported that he has moved his family several hundred miles away…” Actually, the elder receiving those reported threats was Jason Cobb, the son of Jon Cobb Sr. and the CEO of the existing Menlo Park corporation.

It was also reported to me that Jason Cobb has refused to give up original copies of the corporation papers. He has allegedly received threats via email and possibly other means that have implied that he and his family are at risk.

A new corporation formed: I wrote: “In September (2010), the defendants Brede, Contreras, and Laverdure declared themselves officers of a new corporation to own and control the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall. The name of the non-profit corporation is now ‘The English Corporation Of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Menlo Park Congregation.’ ”

I’ve been told that the correct legal name for the new corporation is “English Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Menlo Park, Inc.”

A legal question remains unanswered: Can a new corporation simply be formed to replace an existing corporation without the existing corporation being legally dissolved and its assets audited? I’m not sure how California law treats this situation, but logic would tell me that one corporation could not legally replace another without a verifiable monetary transaction taking place and a confirming vote by both boards of directors.

This would be like someone coming to your house and taking it away from you just because they created a new deed showing a change of ownership. Unless you sold or gifted your house to them and actually signed over the deed before a licensed notary or attorney, the transaction would be patently illegal. And yet that apparently is what has happened in Menlo Park.

Some Updates

I’ve been told that an “ADR attorney” has agreed to represent the plaintiffs (Cobb Sr. and St. Clair) during their arbitration and deposition phase. A telephone conference call was scheduled for March 21-25 between the plaintiffs and defendants. I have not heard the results of that call (assuming it took place as scheduled).

ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) lawyers have skills in negotiating cases before they actually go to court. I have no further details about this arrangement.

There were reports that “constitutional lawyers from San Diego” had expressed interest in representing the plaintiffs, but they were currently scheduled for other cases. I have not been able to confirm that information.

Suing the Watchtower?

The plaintiffs want to make it clear that they ARE NOT SUING THE WATCHTOWER SOCIETY, only the individuals named in their complaint. While disappointed that no one from Watchtower headquarters stepped into the fray and acted on their complaint, the plaintiffs point only at those persons named in the court documents as being responsible and liable.

Another anonymous informant shared his opinion that this scandal and court case would never have happened if the Service Department at Watchtower headquarters had just looked into the plaintiffs’ original letter of complaint and investigated the facts. The plaintiffs would like to believe that it was “rogue elements” within the Service Department that actually directed defendants Koehler and Smithfield to take a hard-line against the existing elder body at Menlo Park.

I was also informed by an anonymous source that the plaintiffs have been successful in their subpoena of certain bank records that support their claim that “several thousand dollars in Kingdom Hall bank accounts” were removed illegally by “persons unknown after the takeover.” Another informant shared the story that during a meeting one of the new elders told the congregation that Kingdom Hall bank accounts were down to only $3000. He then urged the members of the congregation to increase their donations  to build the accounts back up “in order to pay for the refurbishing of the Kingdom Hall.” This would be for work that the original congregation voted down.

Additional Notes

I continue to get occasional anonymous phone calls from “brothers” and “sisters” that go to the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall. For the most part they support the plaintiffs, but there are also some negative comments as well.

“Some days I think this Kingdom Hall is just going to explode,” said one caller. “You can feel the tension in the Hall – and so far the two groups (the former Redwood City members and the existing Menlo Park congregation) have not really come together. A few of us have expressed our feelings that we just want this whole thing to be settled and go away. Deep down we hope that Brother Cobb and Brother St. Clair win the case, but we know that they probably won’t. I guess everyone just figures that Jehovah will sort it all out eventually.”

One caller, who claimed to be a sister in the Menlo Park Hall, told me that there are several members who want to speak out or do something to help the plaintiffs, but are afraid that they will be “called on the carpet” before a judicial committee and maybe even disfellowshipped. “There’s lots of gossip and complaining going on away from the Hall. I don’t think anyone is happy about what is going on, but we’re trying to wait on Jehovah. It would be nice if someone from Bethel would come out here and sort everything out. But I was told that nobody on the Governing Body knows about Menlo Park. How can that be? Can they really be that out of touch?”

I asked one informant “why don’t the plaintiffs just let it go and enjoy the rest of their lives?”  His response was:

“This is all they have ever known. They’ve spent their whole lives in the religion. It’s who they are and what they do. What else can they do? They know their case is strong, and know that they are in the right. They don’t want money. They don’t want publicity. Maybe they are just hoping that Jehovah steps in at some point and helps them.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see if Jehovah does help them win their case. What do you think are the odds that will happen?

Categories: Watchtower Scandals

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  1. JJ

    Thanks for the continued updates John. This is a strange and disturbing case, but fascinating.

  2. june

    This is terrible. Why are JW’s brothers and sisters fighting over a thing like this. We are all children of God (or we claim to be) It seems in this case there is a lot of greed and a looking for special attention to some individuals involved.

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