The Menlo Park Kingdom Hall takeover scandal is like a movie monster that just won’t die.
Three former elders have filed Court cases in San Francisco Federal Court (dismissed), San Mateo Superior Court in Redwood City (dismissed), and earlier this year another case that is progressing in San Jose Federal Court. There was another filing in federal court on April, 2012 [Cobb & Cobb Sr. v. Chase Bank] that is still developing.
These court cases all center around four Menlo Park elders that the Watchtower Society removed and replaced in the summer of 2010. Three of the elders decided to challenge their replacement as officers of the non-profit corporation that owned and managed the land, building, and financial assets connected to the Menlo Park Kingdom Hall.
Over the past two years, Ex-JW.com has provided our readers with ongoing articles and PDF copies of most relevant court documents. This post presents the transcript of the state case heard in the Superior Court of San Mateo County, California on February 22, 2012. The original transcript is quite lengthy, so it’s been broken into seven parts for ease of reading and downloading. Below the link to each section there is an abbreviated synopsis for quick reference.
Those close to the case suggest that our readers give special attention to section 6 below. Defendant Ernest Brede, the current COBOE at Menlo Park, describes events during and after the takeover, and testifies under oath that the existing board of directors was never officially voted out of office. Instead, as directed by a Watchtower Society attorney, a new corporation was simply formed to replace the existing corporation. That is a clear violation of California corporation law.
As you read the full transcript of this case, you may notice that while the court gave the appearance of being fair, the judge sustained practically every objection made by the Watchtower’s attorneys – even to the point of designating printed and signed letters and publications issued by the Watchtower as being “hearsay.” While it often seems that the judge would give Jason Cobb a little slack (he was appearing “pro per” and had not been given time to fully prepare for that day’s trial), he tended to rule for the defense on most critical issues as they came up.
It’s interesting to note that the Watchtower seems to have changed its official position about what kind of religion it really is. For decades the Society has criticized the Catholic and Orthodox churches, and most mainstream Protestant denominations, for being “hierarchies.” Instead of being ruled from the top down by a pope or archbishop, Jehovah’s Witnesses have traditionally presented themselves as groups of Bible students meeting together in small groups, directed in an ecclesiastical “theocratic arrangement.” Watchtower publications still promote the idea that appointments of local elders and special pioneers are directed by holy spirit, not from direct orders by branch office managers.
Watchtower attorney Calvin Rouse destroys that claim forever as officially recorded on pages 4 and 5 (segment 1). Rouse states emphatically, “We are a hierarchical religion just like the Catholic Church.” What follows is even more enlightening.
Thank you, Brother Rouse, for finally clearing up that long-standing misunderstanding on our part. Until now, we thought Jehovah’s Witnesses were part of a “theocratic organization” and that “Jehovah hated evil hierarchies” like the Catholic Church. We were taught and constantly reminded that those false religions were “a snare and a racket.” Now we find out that we aren’t really any different, but are “just like them.”
Jehovah must have changed His mind – again.
[All segments are PDFs. Click on segment title to read or download.]
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 1
[25 pages] Court session opens. Attorney Calvin Rouse (assigned to case by Watchtower Legal Department) introduced as representing Ernest Brede, current COBOE of the English Menlo Park Kingdom Hall. Rouse defends the Watchtower’s actions by admitting that it is a “hierarchical religion structured just like the Catholic Church…and governed from the top down.” Watchtower attorney Smith attempts to poison the well by mentioning to the judge that Jason Cobb is “pro per” and “there is a possibility he is not trained in the law that could be an issue.” Cobb states that the Watchtower has always claimed to be a “theocratic organization,” and has historically been more of a congregational style religion. He points out that there are two considerations: ecclesiastical and corporate legal. Cobb testifies that the current body of elders tried to take over the Kingdom Hall corporation without legal authority to do so. Smith objects to Cobb’s introduction of Watchtower letters as “hearsay;” Judge rules for Smith. Smith also objects to a state issued corporate document as “hearsay;” Court rules for Mr. Cobb. Cobb testifies that the existing Board of Directors were never voted out of office as per state law. Rouse cross examines Cobb.
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 2
[25 pages] Rouse continues to question Cobb about appointment of elders and responsibilities within the congregation. Cobb testifies about where direction and authority comes from within the organization. Cobb explains why he filed the lawsuit; how elders can hold dual responsibility. Rouse argues that Cobb knows no one else that has served in a dual capacity after being removed by the Society. Cobb defines the meaning of “ruled theocratically” as used by the Watchtower; are elders appointed by men at the branch office or by “holy spirit”? Local congregation appoints and votes for corporate officers. Cobb calls Arlen St. Clair to the stand. St. Clair testifies that he was never voted out as Secretary of the MP corporation by the congregation or the other officers, nor did he resign, and he did not join another congregation. Cobb calls his father, Jon Cobb Sr. to the stand. Cobb Sr. testifies about appointments and authority of elders.
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 3
[25 pages] Cobb Sr. continues testimony about how and who selects elders. Cobb reads from a Watchtower that states that elders are not appointed by “a hierarchical form of government.” All quotes from Watchtowers ruled “hearsay.” Paul Koehler’s involvement in the reassignment of elders. Cobb Sr. testifies that an appointment to elder does not automatically make one an officer of the corporation. Officers are appointed based on other qualifications and skills and then approved by the membership. Rouse cross-examines Cobb Sr. about authority and responsibilities of the Governing Body. Rouse allowed to quote from elder book and compares a circuit overseer to an “archbishop.” Redirect by Jason Cobb. How are complaints involving circuit overseers handled? “Obeying God rather than men.” If elder chose to follow Bible command and refused a conflicting order by a circuit servant, should he be punished? Discussion of MP corporate bylaws.
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 4
[25 pages – page #85 is missing] Brief discussion about when the new corporation bylaws were added. Lunch break. Cobb tries to introduce Watchtower CD into evidence. Cobb allowed to refer to CD. Court rules that testimony will not become an argument over Bible doctrine. Cobb tries again to introduce Watchtower volume into evidence. Smith objects and court agrees. Extended clarification over what documents are admissible. [Missing page.] Rouse tries to condense plaintiff’s case. Discussion as to whether case should continue. Cobb identifies the issue before the court is whether replacement of officers met the guidelines of California corporate law. Ernest Brede called to the stand. Brede explains his connection to the Regional Building Committee. He describes the organizational structure from publishers to the top of the corporation. Auditing of accounts. Rouse surprised to find out that George Stock was also removed as an elder. Brede denies that he was part of a “hostile takeover” of MPKH. How the transition played out. Leon Opolsky’s connection to the new body of elders. Lack of bylaws before takeover. Why were locks changed? Were false financial reports created? Official announcement to the congregation. [Court Testimony – Segment 4 – missing page 85
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 5
[20 pages] Jason Cobb conducts trial examination of Ernest Brede. Long discussion of the events leading up to the “takeover” of the Kingdom Hall by the Brede and the other newly appointed elders. Cobb asks for details of how corporate meetings were scheduled and conducted and on what authority. Cobb points to fact that the new elder group voted themselves in as officers of a corporation that didn’t legally exist. Cobb asks Brede what Leon Opolsky (Watchtower Legal) told him to do, but the judge allows the question to go unanswered.
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 6
[10 pages] Jason Cobb continues questioning Ernest Brede. Cobb asks about a report given to the congregation in November about the financial health of the Kingdom Hall corporation. Smith objects and court rules for the objection. Judge instructs Cobb to focus on the issue of the validity of the election of the new board of directors. Cobb asks Brede if there was ever a motion presented to the congregation to remove the existing officers. Brede answers, “There was not.” Smith objects but is overruled. Cobb asks Brede if he was told before coming to Menlo Park that he (and the other defendants) would be appointed as elders. He answers, “Not before we came.” Cobb asks if Brede if the existing elders had resigned or abandoned their positions. Brede answers, “No.” Cobb is stymied by objections, but makes the point that removal of an elder from spiritual oversight does not meet the legal requirements of removal as a corporate officer. Rouse cross examines Brede. Brede explains that he followed the instructions given him by Leon Opolsky, a corporate attorney in California working for the Watchtower. Why the name of the Kingdom Hall corporation was changed.
San Mateo Court Trial Testimony – Segment 7
[18 pages] Cobb cross-examines Brede. Court acknowledges that the names on the corporate documents were out of phase between September, 2010 and January, 2011. Cobb states that the documents show that the “English” congregation/corporation had no standing before January, 2011. Cobb tries to have a bound volume of 1995 Watchtowers admitted into evidence. Smith objects, calling the book “hearsay.” Court rules for Smith. Smith wants to call George Stock as a witness to confirm that the takeover met Watchtower guidelines. Court rules that his testimony would be duplicative and Stock is dismissed. Cobb tries to submit a document showing that the Watchtower supports following corporate law. Smith and Rouse object to its admission as “hearsay.” Court rules that document has no foundation. Rouse sums up defense by claiming that current law gives religions the power to decide the rules over everything it controls and that local elders or members can not take their complaints to court. Cobb counters that if the state rules on a point of law that is not aimed to restrict a religion or belief, then state law applies. Court rules that Cobb’s example of case-law does not apply. Court rules that the Watchtower Society is a hierarchical organization and everything they do falls under First Amendment protection. Court dismisses the case in favor of the Watchtower and the defendants. Court to issue order officially removing Cobb and confirming the new elders as corporation officers.
Court Trial Testimony – Full Version