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The LSU-3 Case Referred Back to Prior Judge, Continues on May 22.

Attorneys representing parties in “Kaatz, Beach, Bradley v. Graham, et al,” the civil case of three former La Sierra University faculty and administrators against the university, the Pacific Union Conference, the North American Division and several church administrators, continued their preliminary arguments before a new judge in Riverside Superior Court (pictured) on April 25.  Each side hoped to score points for its clients in requests for various demurrers and summary judgments before the fact-finding/discovery trial opens before a jury.

However, Judge Daniel A. Ottolio, hearing preliminary elements of the case for the first time, clearly did not want to become involved with the case. Several times during approximately 50 minutes of presentations, Judge Ottolio expressed the opinion that a prior judge in the same Superior Court, Judge Ronald L. Taylor, who had heard extensive earlier motions, would be better equipped to proceed with the trial. In his opening remarks he said, “This is a fairly long, complicated matter,” and asked for agreement from the attorneys to remand the case to Judge Taylor. However, when the defense, representing the church entities and administrators, asked to go on with the case then and there, the judge agreed.

Finally, he did order a continuance, to be referred back to Judge Taylor, on May 22. Attorney Michael Connally, representing the NAD and PUC, and John Daggett, representing Pacific Union Conference President Ricardo Graham, NAD President Daniel R. Jackson and NAD Education executive Larry Blackmer individually, agreed reluctantly to the delay. Richard McCune of McCune Wright, LLP, representing Jeffry Kaatz, James Beach and Gary Bradley (the plaintiffs), was clearly pleased with the return to Judge Taylor.

Earlier in the discussion, the defendants’ attorneys argued again for First Amendment considerations, saying that the structure of the Adventist Church is “one, unified body,” and that LSU is simply an affiliated part of what Connally called the “penumbra” of church administration. McCune countered that Graham, in particular, had “two hats”–one as chair of the LSU Board of Trustees, the other as Pacific Union president. The plaintiffs allege that Graham breached his fiduciary responsibility to the university, which, with its own structure, by-laws, employment policies and Human Resources procedures, required a fair hearing for the three employees—two of which were demoted and one terminated.

The judge did not directly answer the defendants’ attorneys appeals to First Amendment (freedom of religion) arguments. The attorneys had cited the “ministerial exception” for the church organizations and their clients.

After the continuance, McCune expressed optimism that his three clients will receive a fair hearing before the court, and that their arguments will prevail. 

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