The following goes live on Monday:
Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria Set to Appear in Federal District Court
Grace Episcopal Church, located in Alexandria VA, together with defendant Bob Malm, an Episcopal priest, are scheduled for hearings before the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on July 28 in the matter of Bonetti v. Grace Episcopal Church et al.
At issue are an outstanding motion under the Stored Communications Act, which was not considered by the court prior to dismissing the case. The motion asserts that Malm’s wife Leslie or other members of Malm’s family repeatedly attempted to illegally bypass security measures designed to prevent their access to the plaintiff’s blog, located at www.gracealexwatch.org, and that doing so violated the express terms and conditions of the website. Meanwhile, Malm and his family have told the lower courts that the website is “harassing” and “threatening,” and an act of “domestic terrorism.” The motion seeks an injunction against Malm and his family and unspecified damages.
Also under consideration are the plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration, which objects to the dismissal of the case on the bases that:
- The court erred in concluding that plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that he had suffered any injury under federal law, on the grounds that the lower court’s protective order, which plaintiff alleges was obtained by Malm and the church on the basis of fraudulent testimony and perjury, is indeed harm in the form of a denial of due process and equal protection. Similarly, the Plaintiff alleges that violations of his constitutional rights, including but not limited to due process, the equal protection of the laws, and free speech are, by definition, injurious.
- The court erred in ruling before the Commonwealth of Virginia, also named as a defendant, had entered an appearance or pleadings.
- The court failed to consider the First Amendment and other constitutional questions raised in the case, including the City of Alexandria’s repeated use of the police department to interrogate the plaintiff over “suspicious conduct” when conducting legitimate First Amendment-protected activities, including protesting outside the church and handing out information critical of Malm and the church.
The court may also consider a request for an injunction against the Alexandria Circuit Court, which was made by the plaintiff after the case was dismissed, but before before he received notice of dismissal. The request for an injunction seeks to block a proposed gag order by the trial court, which would prohibit even discussing courtroom testimony in the case.
The hearing is the last step before the case goes to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, where an appeal already has been docketed.
“It is troubling indeed that the City apparently claims in its own police reports that peacefully protesting is somehow ‘suspicious activity,’ says Bonetti. “Moreover, the repeated interrogations by the city’s police department chill First Amendment rights, particularly when, as has happened several times, the city has made various pretextual excuses for doing so. Even the most arduous advocate would be dissuaded from protesting when confronted with this behavior on the part of the City and its police.
“In one case, a city police officer claimed I was ‘obstructing’ an empty sidewalk. In another, SGT Pat Alvarez falsely told another city officer via email that he had not told me about a police security detail at the church. My belief is that Alvarez at that time served on the department’s internal affairs unit, so his conduct is doubly concerning.
“These behaviors, combined with the City’s refusal to investigate my allegations that Bob Malm committed perjury, undercut trust in the City and its police officers. And the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia is no better, for it has seen firsthand my evidence of Malm’s perjury. That extends to Bishop Susan Goff and the diocese’s attorney, Brad Davenport.
“The bottom line is that there is zero accountability in the Episcopal Church, and not much more accountability for city law enforcement,” Bonetti concluded.
A previous settlement offer from the church, which would have imposed a gag order on the plaintiff, was rejected in its entirety.
“Gag orders are inherently abusive, and serve only to help abusive organizations continue their misconduct. I will not agree to any such thing,” said Bonetti, a retired attorney.
The lawsuit, along with others in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and several now before the Virginia Supreme Court are counterclaims filed after Bob Malm, acting in his role as an Episcopal priest, filed lawsuits against Bonetti, claiming he had threatened and harassed Malm and his family by blogging.
Since the original lawsuit, Malm has retired as rector of Grace Episcopal Church, and the parish has seen a profound drop in giving and attendance that has led to the major budget cuts, including elimination of the full-time family ministries position.