Jan 6, 2011

 
 

Lawyers for both sides in the sexual misconduct case against Bishop Eddie Long continue to wrangle over the deposition schedule.

Judge Johnny Panos last month signed an order requiring all parties to agree on a mediator no later than Jan. 31 or the court would appoint one. Mediation of the case would begin during the week of Feb 14, according to the order.

Now at issue is who will give a sworn deposition first. Lawyers for the defendants requested the men, who have accused Long of using his influence, trips and gifts to entice them into sexual relationships, be deposed first. But B.J. Bernstein, who represents the plaintiffs, wants Long and church members to also be deposed early in the process.

"We just want a fair and balanced deposition schedule," Bernstein said Wednesday "Not just one side."

Four men -- Maurice Robinson, Jamal Parris, Anthony Flagg and Spencer LeGrande -- have sued the prominent Lithonia megachurch pastor and the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in State Court of DeKalb County.

Lawyers for the defendants, who could not be reached for comment, have asked for clarification of Judge Johnny Panos' order on the depositions, which appears to have Parris deposed first.

Long has denied the allegations. In his responses to the suits, Long admittedoccasionally sharing a room with members of his congregation, but in each of the responses, he said, "The plaintiff's claims of sexual misconduct are not true."

The order of depositions could provide an advantage.

Thomas C. Arthur, a law professor at Emory University, said during the discovery phase, when both sides take depositions and request and inspect documents, the order in which depositions are taken could help the opposing side know "what the other side's witnesses are going to say and help plan their cross-examinations." Sometimes, he added, discovery can also lead to a settlement because one side can gauge the strength of the other's case.

"It's strategic back and forth," Arthur said.

Typically, he said, lawyers cooperate to arrange the order, but sometimes the judge steps in to determine the order.

The church's mentoring program, the LongFellows Youth Academy, is named in three of the suits. The plaintiffs seek jury trials and unspecified damages.

Panos said in an interview that both sides "seemed to be pretty open to discussion of a quick resolution of the case, whether through trial or negotiation settlements."

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