Church case sent back to P.G. court

Dispute involves assets taken by breakaway group

July 25, 2002|By Andrea Siegel | Andrea Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Court of Appeals ruling has boosted prospects that a breakaway Temple Hills church can keep $39 million in assets - including a Learjet - that it acquired while it was part of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church denomination.

The decision on whether From the Heart Church Ministries or the denomination is entitled to the property should be based on whether ownership papers specify that the breakaway church held the property in trust for the Charlotte, N.C.-based denomination or on its own, the Court of Appeals ruled.

"Consent to holding property in trust during the course of affiliation does not automatically constitute consent to relinquishing that property once the affiliation terminates," Chief Judge Robert M. Bell wrote for the unanimous court.

Jack Lipson, an attorney for From the Heart, said the ruling, which returns the case to Prince George's County Circuit Court for a new hearing, favors his clients and is consistent with what he argued in court.

"I think the evidence will demonstrate that there was no trust relationship with the denomination," he said yesterday.

The lawyer for AME Zion Church did not return a call.

The denomination and the breakaway church have been battling for three years since the Rev. John A. Cherry left AME Zion Church, taking almost all 24,000 members and church property. A Prince George's County judge ruled for the denomination, but From the Heart appealed.

From the Heart members flooded the top court's seven judges with so many letters that one judge accused members of trying to intimidate the court.

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