More Details On The ‘Ex-Gay’ Kidnapping Lawsuit Against Liberty Counsel

Yesterday, we noted that Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University had all been added to a lawsuit filed by Janet Jenkins for allegedly playing a role in the kidnapping by her former partner, Lisa Miller, of their daughter Isabella.

Several years ago, Miller renounced homosexuality after joining Jerry Falwell’s church in Virginia and then became locked in a legal battle with Jenkins over visitation rights with their daughter. Miller was being represented in her legal proceedings by Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, both of whom worked at the Liberty University School of Law, where Staver served as dean at the time and Lindevaldsen taught as a professor, through Liberty Counsel. Falwell, the late televangelist, is the founder of Liberty University, and the school is located next to his church.

After repeatedly violating court orders to grant Jenkins access to their daughter and on the verge of losing custody because of those violations, Miller kidnapped their daughter and fled the country in 2009.

Last year, Philip Zodhiates, whose daughter, Victoria Hyden, worked for Staver and Lindavendsen at the Liberty University School of Law, was convicted over his role in the kidnapping, as was Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller, who is not related to Lisa Miller.

In the judge’s ruling adding Staver, Lindevaldsen, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University to Jenkins’ RICO lawsuit, the court noted that Lindevaldsen had allegedly been asked to collect some belongings that Miller had left behind when she fled the country and did so while insisting to the court that she had no idea of Miller’s whereabouts [emphasis added]:

In their amended pleadings, Plaintiffs assert that Lindevaldsen and Staver are or have been employees of Liberty University and Liberty Counsel in relation to the claims set forth therein, and that Lindevaldsen and Staver were Miller’s lead attorneys in her family court case regarding Miller-Jenkins. They allege that Zodhiates suggested that he had a “personal option” for Miller in an email to a Liberty Counsel employee in early 2009 should the family courts involved find against her despite her attorneys’ efforts to prevent Jenkins from having contact with Miller-Jenkins. Furthermore, Plaintiffs claim that Miller was held in contempt by a Virginia court on August 25, 2009 for failing to comply with its prior orders. According to the pleadings, she failed to appear at the hearing imposing the contempt sanction and instead held a press conference with Staver and Lindevaldsen at her side. In other communications with RUL [Response Unlimited, the direct mail firm run by Zodhiates that Liberty Counsel used to raise money for Miller’s defense] employees, Zodhiates stated that Lindevaldsen and Staver made representations regarding when they expected the Vermont court would award full custody to Jenkins. The amended pleadings further allege that Miller stated, after arriving in Nicaragua in 2009, that Liberty Counsel had advised her that it would be in her best interests to disappear (presumably through her attorneys or at their instruction, although the pleadings do not specify who at Liberty Counsel provided Miller with this advice).

Next, the pleadings claim that Hyden delivered emails from Zodhiates to Lindevaldsen after Miller fled the country regarding Miller’s needs. Specifically, these emails requested donations for supplies to be sent to Miller and sought to coordinate the removal of items from Miller’s apartment. According to the amended complaint, Lindevaldsen packed up Miller’s personal belongings directly. During this time Plaintiffs allege that Lindevaldsen falsely claimed that she was unable to communicate with Miller to the Vermont family court in an attempt to delay contempt proceedings aimed at locating Miller-Jenkins. As a result, Plaintiffs assert in their amended complaint that Miller was able to leave the United States in advance of September 25, 2009 and remain there past January 1, 2010 with the assistance of Lindevaldsen and others. They therefore bring claims against Lindevaldsen and Staver for the intentional tort of kidnapping and for conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Jenkins and Miller-Jenkins based on discriminatory animus against same-sex couples and against Jenkins due to sexual orientation.

The court declared that while Staver may or may not have been aware of Miller’s whereabouts, his “leadership roles at both Liberty University and Liberty Counsel implicate him in the commission of the alleged torts” stemming from Lindevaldsen’s alleged actions, which is also the grounds on which Liberty Counsel and Liberty University were added to the lawsuit.