It is on and popping now! Chief Operating Officer of the Church of God In Christ, Elder James Smith has called for Judge Enoch Perry to step down! If it has never been dealt with in the past 15 years it will have to be addressed now. Something is seriously wrong with the method used by the current General Counsel in cases against the church.
Read Elder James Smith Open Letter Below!
Elder James Smith’s timing is amazing! This letter has strategically been written and released prior to the COGIC Spring Call Meeting of the General Assembly this coming April. It is no doubt that the matter will reach the floor and have to be properly addressed. The National Church may call for the Perry to step down this April! On the other hand such a bold and reckless move could cause Bishop Blake to fire Smith. It remains to be seen just how it will play out, but it is one thing about it James Smith has hit a point of no return. Who will stay and who will be asked to go Elder James Smith or Judge Enoch Perry?
Obnoxious reached out to each of the men for their comment and was unable to reach either of them for comment.
Re: The General Counsel for The Church of God In Christ, Inc.
Dear Presiding Bishop and all Members of The General Board:
I write this letter with great remorse. The content of this lengthy correspondence
represents a decision I know can have repercussions for me. I am, however, committed as a fourth generation member of the Church of God in Christ to her well-being and the protection of my boss, the Presiding Bishop. As such, I must confess to you that I write this letter without ANY previous conversation with the Presiding Bishop. I also write this letter because the matter I am bringing to your attention is a matter that should have equal gravity for all who have been elected to guide and safeguard the future of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. But, I also write this letter knowing I have forged a good relationship with the General Counsel and realize the content of my statement may have irreparable damage to this relationship.
My comments or assessment of Judge Perry are based upon a myriad of reasons. First, my own observations about administrative acumen; secondly, my observations of the legal briefing provided to the General Board; third, the assessment of attorneys who have sought their perspective about how they adjudicate similar matters of similar clientele; fourth, the commentary from a plethora of national leaders regarding some of the most recent legal cases the
Judge has led on behalf of the National Church; and lastly, the honest, though respectful answers to very specific questions asked of the legal counselors who surround the judge (namely, how much involvement did they-have in the’ development of the flawed legal strategies executed on behalf of the Church).
I am fully aware that my not communicating with the Presiding Bishop prior to sending this notification is tantamount to insubordination and even ‘grounds for dismissal. On the other hand, I do not think the onus for yet another necessary termination in the life of the organization should be born solely on the shoulders of the Presiding Bishop when, indeed, the ramifications of Judge Perry’s actions and performance has an effect on the entire General Board and the future of the Church of God in Christ, Inc. In other words, I believe your understanding of this issue should result in a consensus that the Judge be set aside, less we face more dire circumstances that are too large to repair.
Regrettably, I must bring to your attention the ongoing dilemma which the National Church has dealt with for many years and will continue to face as a result of the grossly ineffective, entirely inadequate and extremely costly representation being afforded to date by our General Counsel, Judge Enoch Perry, III. As I will address more fully below, in less than a one (1) year time span, the National Church has paid out over $1,000,000 solely due to the lack of
sufficient legal acumen and fatal errors in judgment by our General Counsel.
In the face of so many financial difficulties, this Church cannot afford to maintain Legal Counsel for even one more day who has and will continue to make fatal errors which is not only costly to this Church, but places this institution in grave danger. Indeed, dealing with this matter not only is in the best interest of COGIC, but is directly in accord with Judge Perry’s consistent theme of ‘preventive maintenance’ designed to defray unnecessary costs and liability to the detriment of the National Church.
Out of respect for the Office which Judge Perry holds, I have held my peace for some time in hopes that over time his leadership in regards to the legal issues facing this Church would improve. Clearly, we all make decisions which upon further consideration might have not necessarily been the best decision. Nevertheless, we are not dealing with one or two instances where better judgment would have prevailed. Unfortunately, this Church has been the victim of
Judge Perry’s legal endeavors all of which have resulted in one costly debacle after another all to the detriment of this institution. Furthermore, as The Presiding Bishop and The General Board is well aware in connection with the legal issues currently facing this Church, there has been no clear legal direction or strategy whatsoever, in addition to continuous attempts to strong arm those who are more than qualified to handle the issues facing the National Church.
As the Chief Operating Officer of the National Church, it is my sincere belief that I have an affirmative obligation to bring these issues to the immediate attention of The Presiding Bishop and The General Board in order that this massive destruction of financial resources and the creation of yet to be revealed liabilities is brought to an end.
1. Payment of Exorbitant Fees and settlement Amounts
As a result of Judge Perry’s actions and inactions on behalf of this Church, we have paid exorbitant fees and settlements. While I have not served this Church for the entire fifteen (15) plus year period in which Judge Perry has held the position as Legal Counsel, based upon what is known thus far, the National Church has paid settlements in cases which we should have not paid one cent. This Church has also paid legal fees and expenses which should have been paid by other parties.
For example, during 2010, the National Church paid an exorbitant settlement amount in a case in which the Church had no real exposure. However, Judge Perry from the onset of the lawsuit engaged in conduct which compromised this Church’s rights and ultimately gave us little choice other than to pay a settlement to prevent the possibility of getting hit with even a greater judgment at the time of trial. Not only did Judge Perry fail to articulate the potential issues at the onset of the litigation to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board, in response to this
avoidable financial nightmare, Judge Perry could not formulate any explanation other than that he did not understand the legal issues.
If Judge Perry cannot understand the legal issues, than how can he effectively serve as the legal representative of this Church? If Judge Perry does not comprehend legal concepts, then how can he effectively articulate and/or disseminate necessary information to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board? Indeed, Judge Perry’s ability to understand legal issues and articulate this information to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board is crucial for this
Church to make wise and informed decisions regarding the direction of legal matters. Judge Perry has attorneys on staff who are competent and capable to handle whatever issues are facing the Church, but instead of consulting any of these attorneys, he continues to do things his own way, unfortunately to the detriment of this Church.
2. Ethical Issues Failure to Disclose Conflicts of Interest/Malpractice
Ethically, a retired federal judge who claims to have a litany of experience in legal
matters cannot claim that he did not recognize or was unaware of his obligation to report errors to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board. While I am sure that The Presiding Bishop and The General Board have no intention to report Judge Perry to the Tennessee Bar Association due to potential ethical violations, the fact remains that his conduct in the handling of these cases could be subject to disciplinary action by the Tennessee Bar Association if reported by the National Church.
While I am not an attorney, this sort of conduct appears to rise to the level of malpractice. Based upon my discussions with other attorneys, including our own attorneys, it is my understanding that Judge Perry has an obligation to disclose to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board when a case must be settled or rights have been compromised due to the fact that our Counsel made a fatal error. This ‘lack of accountability has cost this Church greatly and will continue to cost this Church by the payment of unnecessary settlements and fees without any disclosure of the real rationale behind the payment of settlements or fees. These are technical points I am sure, the other attorneys would not risk their license to practice by answering by disavowing this comment.
3. Retention of Incompetent Law Firms and Mismanagement of Law Firms
In addition to the Church paying a settlement it should not have paid, during 2007 and continuing until 2009, Judge Perry hired a firm which not only was incompetent and incapable to handle the case on behalf of this Church, but the firm also over-billed COGIC well in excess of $200,000. Unfortunately for COGIC, and creating even a bigger financial mess, most of the firm’s bills were paid by this Church as a result of the directive by Judge Perry that the bills be
paid. In reality, the bills should have been paid by another entity, which could have been easily observed by Judge Perry if he took the time to review the invoices before requesting that COGICpay the invoices.
Firms have consistently threatened to withdraw as defense counsel on behalf of COGIC in pending cases due to the untimely payment of legal fees. Unfortunately for COGIC, Judge Perry generally allows outside firms to essentially handle the defense of the action on behalf of the Church without providing the law firms any clear direction or legal strategy as to what the Church’s concerns are. Also, Judge Perry consistently fails to provide The Presiding Bishop and The General Board with an in-depth analysis of potential liability exposure and a budget of costs in order that wise and prudent decision-making can occur about cases. We all remember well the recent issues with Delaware and the faulty representations and recommendations which were made for well over six months by our General Counsel.
We must rely upon the integrity and legal acumen of Judge Perry to determine
appropriate representation in outside litigation, management of costs associated with outside litigation, management of fees internally within the Office of General Counsel, along with detailed disclosure to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board in connection with all legal matters. With great displeasure, I will submit that Judge Perry has utterly failed in every area outlined above. So, essentially, this Church is a victim due to Judge Perry’s lack of diligence and/or efficiency in performing his job duties and responsibilities as the General Counsel of COGIC.
-During 2010, Judge Perry also hired a firm in the State of Delaware on behalf of The National Church. The law firm was paid a $15,000 retainer and billed the Church only to find out within a month of the retention that the law firm did not have the expertise or acumen to assist The National Church. As usual, The National Church was forced to pay legal fees to a firm that could not assist this Church. Had our Legal Counsel vetted this law firm properly before hiring them, then The National Church would not have been forced into paying a law firm which essentially did nothing.
The ability of Judge Perry to protect the financial welfare of this Church in the administration of his duties and responsibilities on behalf of COGIC is imperative. Indeed, it has yet to be revealed the extent of exorbitant fees paid to date as a result of the retention of incompetent counsel and/or the failure to review invoices before directing that the Church pay the fees.
It has only been through primarily reviewing some of the files for this Church that the information regarding improper handling of cases on behalf of COGIC has been revealed. While I do not understand the extent of the ethical obligations pertaining to Judge Perry as the legal representative of this Church, it is my wholehearted position and belief that Judge Perry should at least have disclosed to The Presiding Bishop and The General Board that his actions and
inactions on behalf of this Church have created a financial nightmare and unnecessary liability exposure for COGIC. Instead of coming clean about the foregoing debacles and the ethical quagmires which he has created for this Church and himself, Judge Perry continues to operate in whatever manner he deems appropriate and in his best interest even if this directly compromises the best interest of this Church. This stubborn behavior is what has exasperated me the most. Why have adjoining counsel, for which the church pays a modest fee, but they are not fully appreciated, even in the area of expertise they possess and he does not!
4. Lack of Legal Direction/Lack of Legal Advise/Lack of Preparation
Judge Perry has failed to provide The Presiding Bishop and The General Board with any clear direction in various matters. For example, in 2010 and continuing until the present, Judge Perry has not provided any strategy with regards to the Delaware matter. Judge Perry was involved in this matter from its inception and aware of the potential issues associated with the situation at hand, but it was not until recently that Judge Perry actually retained a firm to assist the Church in this matter. If Judge Perry knew that he could not effectively advise the Church then he should have consulted with attorneys on his staff that have experience handling these types of cases or, alternatively, hired an outside firm to provide some direction to this Church.
Once again, Judge Perry chose his own path of not taking advice from attorneys
competent to provide direction to the Church as to the best manner to proceed. Judge Perry even went so far as to request that one of the Church’s Officers who is not an attorney and has no legal experience whatsoever draft the complaint to be filed with the Board of Bishops. Why would the General Counsel for this Church want to expose any of the Officers in this Church to liability for this matter? Why would the General Counsel for this Church ask a non-lawyer to draft any pleading which common sense dictates should be prepared by legal counsel? Why would the General Counsel of this Church fail to make any recommendations to COGIC in this matter when he clearly knew that the Church has no director and officer liability coverage? Why would the General Counsel fail to bring to the Church’s attention the potential possibilities associated with this matter prior to January ?f 20J 1, when he certainly was aware of all of the issues from the Summer of2010? Why would General Counsel for COGIC advise The Presiding Bishop and The General Board that we should do nothing in the matter and, further, that the National Church had NO obligation to disclose its findings to governmental authorities when now, after having retained competent outside counsel, COGIC is being advised that it should disclose to government authorities relevant information in its possession to prevent the perception of criminal collusion from being cast on its Officers, including the Presiding Bishop and General Board? Why would General Counsel for COGIC continue to engage in activities which clearly are not in the best interest of this Church?
We all should remember vividly the embarrassment associated with his representation of The General Board before The Board of Bishops in connection with the Trial of Bishop Holsey during November of 2010. Judge Perry not only failed to properly prepare himself, but the witnesses which were brought in from Delaware also were not prepared by Judge Perry despite many trips by Judge Perry to Delaware for meetings with these witnesses all at the cost of COGlC. To make matters worse, the Board of Bishops incurred two extra days of unnecessary fees associated with the trial which would otherwise been unnecessary had Judge Perry been prepared. Moreover, Judge Perry even took an unnecessary trip at the expense of this Church to Michigan to review documents in connection with this matter, only to result in the need for someone else to actually review the documents which should have been done by Legal Counsel.
Unfortunately, I have been relegated to the position of the micro manager for all of the legal expenses incurred on behalf of Judge Perry and his department since from my involvement it is clear that Judge Perry is not capable of effectively budgeting expenses and costs in the best interest of the National Church. Judge Perry has even taken many trips across the country on cases involving this Church when his presence was not mandated or required by outside counsel or the court. Once again, the National Church paid the bill for all of these unnecessary trips.
In addition to the foregoing, consistently Judge Perry has failed to provide timely and sufficient legal advice to The Presiding Bishop, The General Board, and the administration of this Church, in addition to the lack of timely disclosure of documents and other information to outside firms hired on behalf of this Church. Delaying until this last moment or after the requisite time has expired not only has been a great cause of frustration internally for this Church, but led law firms representing this Church to threaten to withdraw as counsel and advise the Church that it could be subject to monetary sanctions for failing to timely respond to demands in pending actions.
For example, in 2010, Judge Perry actually tried to hire an out of state firm to represent COGIC in a state in which COGlC has at least three licensed attorneys. Instead of consulting any of these attorneys, Judge Perry proceeded to hire an out of state firm who had no attorneys admitted in the state where the case was pending. This from my understanding would not only be problematic for the attorney or firm retained to represent COGlC, but also would have created yet another avoidable dilemma for COGIC. This scenario would also have resulted in yet additional unnecessary legal fees and expenses due to the traveling in-and-out of a state when common sense should have led Judge Perry to simply hire a local in-state firm or, even better, attempts to save the Church some funds by consulting with one of COGIC’s attorneys in the state where the lawsuit was/is pending.
Moreover, the failure to respond to requests by outside counsel retained for COGlC from my perspective only yields the result of this Church continuing to pay more unnecessary fees to outside counsel because our General Counsel does not respond timely to demands. In fact, a review of the bills in question clearly reflect that some of the fees paid by the Church were as a result of the continuous need to literally beg Judge Perry to comply with directives demanded
against the National Church.
5. Other Issues
From a budgeting perspective, this Church continues to pay for Judge Perry to maintain his licensing in the State of Tennessee, along with the allocation of funds for continuous legal education and training. Why should the Church continue to be responsible for these fees and expenses when, as outlined above, his performance is getting much worse than ever before? As outlined above, the costs associated with his legal representation are greatly in excess of what this Church can afford, but nonetheless he continues to be rewarded with the payment of licensing fees and legal training by the National Church in order that this financial nightmare can proceed.
As alluded to above, I am literally the micro manager for any fees which are presented to The National Church from The Office of General Counsel. Many of the staff at Headquarters have been required to provide secretarial and administrative assistance to Judge Perry in the performance of his job duties. While assistance can certainly be provided, why should this Church pay Judge Perry for clerical, secretarial and administrative staff members in Maryland where his office is located if in fact the actual work is being performed by the staff at headquarters?
Moreover, since my research has revealed that the actual work that is being done on behalf of the Church is not usually completed by Judge Perry but one or more of the other attorneys on staff, why must this Church pay Judge Perry a generous honorarium only to discover that the real work is being completed by other attorneys? I am appalled to become aware of the fact that there are even attorneys on Judge Perry’s staff which receive honorariums from The National Church but perform no real function or work. If this were not enough, it is my understanding that we actually have at least one ‘attorney’ on Judge Perry’s staff who is not licensed to practice law in any jurisdiction.
Furthermore, disappointment continues to lie with the fact that Judge Perry seldom, if ever, attends any of the General Board meetings on time, reports are never timely prepared and the information contained within the; reports are wholly inadequate and does not effectively advise the Church on the legal issues. And yet, his reports have taken as much as an entire morning or afternoon to report out the General Board. Also, complaints have been consistent in the ability to conduct general business matters relative to the entering of contracts on behalf of The Church. Indeed, many of our staff, department leaders, and Bishops have started to consult other attorneys on Judge Perry’s legal staff due to his unavailability or non-responsiveness-he has no set office hours and, more times than not, he cannot be reached by cell phone. As opposed to providing legal guidance and/or deferring to attorneys who are qualified to assist The
National Church, Judge Perry continues to engage in strong arm tactics and essentially hinders the ability to conduct business in an expeditious and informative fashion. His tone in responding to objective, though differing views by his legal staff, is condescending and sometimes belligerent.
In this day and time, it is imperative that whoever serves as the legal representative of The National Church be able to effectively advise the Church on all legal matters or at least have enough wisdom to consult with someone who is competent to respond to the issues at hand.
Integrity, wisdom and sufficient legal acumen is imperative to the position which Judge Perry holds since, as outlined above, could otherwise create a multiplicity of problems for this denomination, all of which could be avoided with proper legal representation.
While I believe that Judge Perry has served this Church to the best of his ability, this service is nonetheless severely detrimental to the functioning of this institution as a whole and, therefore, for the benefit of The National Church, Judge Perry should immediately and voluntarily resign from his Office. Judge Perry’s failure to resign will not only be in direct contravention of his motto of preventive maintenance, but, without removal, could easily lead this Great Church into a state of bankruptcy and entirely preventable liability scenarios. It is this last statement that has kept me awake and obsessed during the day with what decision will he be given the right to execute on behalf the Church that will undermine our very existence as an organization seeking to fulfill the will of God in the world.
In closing, I am aware of the inadvertent disrespect I may be demonstrating to the office of Presiding Bishop. For this, I am sorry and seek his forgiveness and understanding. My single focus for the time I have worked in this capacity has unequivocally been to serve the Presiding Bishop honorably and with integrity. But, there isn’t even a slight possibility that my love for the Church, my confidence in this research, and therefore, this correspondence will be recanted. If the circumstance of this letter is deemed egregious beyond repair, you may also accept this correspondence as my willingness to step down on an effective date that pleases the Presiding Bishop.
Elder James Smith
Chief Operations Officer
CHURCH OF GOD IN CHRIST, INC.
Cc: Bishop Joel H. Lyles, General Secretary