By Damien Fisher
Michael Voris, the disgraced founder of Church Militant, is broke, unemployed, and now facing a possible criminal investigation.
Voris appeared via video at a hearing in the United States District Court in Concord, New Hampshire on Friday as Judge Joseph LaPlante asked why attorney Richard Lehmann is quitting the defamation case brought by New Hampshire priest the Rev. Georges de Laire.
The answer, it seems, is that Church Militant wants to pursue unspecified criminal charges against Voris.
Voris appeared alone in his video feed and seemed to be streaming himself from his home. A dog could be seen in the background, at times licking itself.
Criminal charges for Voris?
Lehmann recently filed a motion to leave the case as the defense lawyer for Voris and Church Militant, citing an untenable conflict of interest that arose as Lehmann attempted to get the Catholic media non-profit to comply with a court order to stop hiding evidence.
Howard Cooper, the attorney representing de Laire, told LaPlante that he was informed Lehmann is leaving due to the possibility of a criminal case involving the defendants.
“It’s my understanding there are calls from members of the board for Voris to be criminally prosecuted,” Cooper said.
Cooper wanted Mike Sherry, the current Church Media board president who also attended via video, to confirm a possible criminal investigation into the conflict forcing Lehmann out. The exact nature of that conflict was disclosed in a brief virtual in camera session between LaPlante, Lehmann, Voris, and Sherry, after which LaPlante agreed Lehman cannot stay on the case
“I am going to have to allow (Lehmann) to withdraw,” LaPlante said.
Lehmann is the third Church Militant lawyer to quit the case citing an untenable conflict of interest. The trial in de Laire’s defamation lawsuit is still scheduled for February, and neither Church Militant nor Voris have lawyers.
“I still need to find a lawyer,” Sherry said.
Sherry told LaPlante he would be contacting the Marc Randazza law firm for a recommendation on a new attorney. Randazza is the ethically challenged former gay porn industry lawyer who was barred by LaPlante from representing Voris and Church Militant. Court records cite pending ethics investigation against Randazza as justification.
Voris, broke, will represent himself
Voris, who now cannot rely on Church Militant to provide an attorney, told LaPlante he will likely represent himself at trial out of necessity since he cannot afford to hire counsel.
“Frankly I do not have the financial wherewithal to do that,” Voris said. “I do not have a job, I do not have any money to speak of, except some equity in my home. I would have to be my own counsel.”
LaPlante told Voris it is his right to act as his own attorney, though he strongly discouraged the former broadcaster from representing himself.
If there is good news for Church Militant, it is that de Laire is now offering a settlement agreement, after saying on the record for months he had no plans to deal. The terms of the settlement offer are not being made public, but it will likely be costly for the beleaguered media company.
Church Militant had no defamation liability insurance
Sherry said Church Militant has no insurance to cover damages, and no assets outside of the two commercial buildings that house the organization. Both buildings in Ferndale, Michigan are currently for sale.
At this point, Church Militant could possibly soon lose its home, its equipment, and all its money.
LaPlante pressed Sherry on whether Church Militant has anything of value that could go toward a settlement, or be forcibly turned over through damages. Sherry told LaPlante the equipment inside the building, mostly studio gear, is owned by Church Militant outright and is valued at about $1 million. LaPLante then asked about how much money Church Militant has in cash donation, the major source of revenue.
Sherry did not know the current figures for Church Militant, and LaPlante empathized with Sherry, saying donors didn’t give them money with the intent to pay for damages in a lawsuit, but implied that might be what happens after the buildings and the studio equipment are liquidated.
Church Militant assets for sale, but where will the money go?
Cooper expressed concern about the impending sale of Church Militant’s buildings, and what might happen to the proceeds. Sherry did not agree to put the sale revenue into an escrow account pending the outcome of the case, as Cooper wants.
LaPlante is calling both sides back to court on Tuesday to give Sherry a chance to speak with a real estate advisor about the escrow proposal. In the meantime, LaPlante said no sale should happen until after the Tuesday conference.
“I don’t want to hear about anybody selling these properties between now and then,” LaPlante said.
If Sherry does not accept a voluntary escrow, Cooper is prepared to file a temporary restraining order against Church Militant and attach a lien on its property, essentially freezing any sales funds.
Still asking for donations
“We would hate to lose this place to the Devil and allow him to undermine all our work. That is precisely what he wants,” Sherry wrote.
That email did not mention the lawsuit, and it did not mention that the board of a news media non-profit did not ensure it has insurance in place to cover a defamation liability.
Courtroom sketch of Friday’s hearing by Clara Fisher. Voris appears at right