A judge has restored the Second Baptist Church board of trustees’ and finance committee’s access to offering collections.
Circuit Judge Jim Kitchens ordered the church’s deacons to turn over the offering funds to those bodies during a court hearing Tuesday in Oktibbeha County. He did not, however, find pastor Joseph Stone Jr. or Head Deacon Terry Miller in contempt of court for withholding the funds.
Kitchens’ order also capped two days of hearings in a lawsuit trustees filed in December 2015 against Stone, Miller and contractor Donald Crowther involving payments made to Crowther for a new sanctuary that’s yet to be built.
The plaintiffs are seeking $400,000 in damages for money the church paid Crowther between 2013 and when the lawsuit was filed. The contractor only completed some dirt work at the site during that time. No work on the project has been done since July 2015, and Crowther also faces a fraud charge in criminal court.
On Monday, Kitchens allowed the finance committee to join the civil suit as a plaintiff.
The plaintiffs, represented by Jackson-based attorney Dorsey Carson, argue Stone hired Crowther and his company TCM Companies of Long Beach, without the trustees’ approval.
Carson said Monday the deacons, headed by Miller, had seized church offerings from the last several months and placed them in a new banking account to which the trustees and finance committee had no access.
Carson argued this violated a 2016 court order to keep the board of trustees intact and uphold the “status quo,” therefore accusing Stone and Miller of contempt of court.
Stone’s and Miller’s attorney, Williams Starks of Columbus, argued nothing Miller or Stone had done since Kitchens issued the court order had changed the makeup of the board of trustees, and that the trustees had gone against the wishes of the church body by not signing the contract with Crowther in the first place.
Though Kitchens did not rule on contempt, he “gave a pretty strong admonishment to Stone and Miller,” Carson told The Dispatch after Tuesday’s hearing.
Carson said his clients do not know exactly how much money is in the new account because they don’t have access to it, but the revenue should have been about $30,000 per month since January or February. He said he doesn’t know what the expenditures have been.
Starks did not comment on Kitchens’ order but said the church was going to “try to make some reconciliation efforts.”
“I think the intent for everybody right now is to set a trial date or try to resolve this case,” he said.