Southern Baptist Convention Attorney Resigns on Sexual Abuse Investigation

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After serving the Southern Baptist Convention and its executive committee for 56 years, legal counsel for the country’s largest Protestant denomination resigned.

Guenther, Jordan, & Price, a law firm based in Springfield, TN, briefed Ronnie Floyd, President and CEO of the Executive Committee, in a letter Monday morning.

The decision followed an executive committee vote in a special session on October 5 to lift legal disclosure for a third party investigation into the executive committee’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.

The law firm said attorney privacy is an essential aspect of the legal services it offers, which enables clients to “communicate freely and confidentially with their legal counsel”.

“The decision (to forego privileges) prompts us to carefully weigh the prospects for further development as we seek to represent the Executive Committee and the Convention in an unfamiliar setting,” wrote attorneys Jim Guenther and James Jordan.

The law firm‘s resignation is the most recent consequence of the committee’s vote to renounce the privilege, with 10 members of the executive committee resigning in the past week and a half.

Other resignations:How a series of resignations from top committees could further increase tensions within the SBK

Privilege canceled:The Southern Baptist Convention Committee grants access to privileged files

“It is with deep regret that we accept your decision and understand your reasons for it and your need to withdraw,” Floyd said in a statement sent via email.

Executive Committee President Ronnie Floyd addresses the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee meeting at the Music City Center on Monday June 14, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee.

In a phone conversation Monday, Günther said he knew it was possible that his company would terminate its decade-long contract with the SBC and the Executive Committee since the convention’s messengers or voting delegates approved the investigation at the SBC’s annual meeting in June . As part of that motion, the messengers instructed the Executive Committee to waive attorney confidentiality. The Congress and the Executive Committee first hired Günther in 1966.

By waiving legal confidentiality, Guidepost Solutions, the investigator, can review privileged communications and legal memos between Guenther, Jordan, & Price and the officers and members of the past 21 years if the privileged materials are relevant to the scope of the investigation.

The executive committee, which deals with denominational affairs when the entire Congress is not in session, has voted three times in the last few sessions to renounce the privilege. It voted against the waiver of the privilege the first two times, but it was correct the third time.

Those who opposed the waiver of privilege expressed concern about the implications for the insurance of the convention. The executive committee hired a second law firm to advise on the waiver of privilege, and a representative told the executive committee at the October 5 meeting that he had never heard of a client waiving the privilege.

However, other members of the executive committee, sexual abuse survivors, and other Southern Baptist leaders and pastors in the United States said the committee must forego the privilege to comply with the will of the messengers. Proponents of foregoing the privilege said it was necessary to ensure a fully transparent investigation.

Günther and his colleagues felt differently. “We believe we have made the decision that is correct from the standpoint of professional ethics and the standards of our own law firm,” Guenther told The Tennessean.

In the letter to Floyd, the attorneys said that in this case the privilege has now been waived, they cannot promise that future communications with the executive committee and SBC staff will be “safe”.

The company also opposed the prevailing belief that waiving the privilege will benefit the investigation. “The solicitor’s privilege has been portrayed by some as an evil means by which wrongdoing can be somehow kept secret so that wrongdoers can escape justice and violate the legal rights of others,” the letter said. “There’s nothing scary about it. It doesn’t corrupt justice; it creates the space for justice.”

Bruce Frank, chairman of the SBC Sexual Abuse Task Force, which oversaw the investigation and helped waive the privilege indictment, said the task force had no comment on Guenther, Jordan & Price’s resignation.

Liam Adams covers religion for The Tennessean. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @liamsadams.


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