The last time it was for defamation. This time, it is for contempt.
In a fresh set of suits, Lighthouse Chapel International says six former employees who have sued the church should be cited for contempt for sparking a media war aimed at undermining the court.
The church accuses the pastors of causing The Fourth Estate to publish “sensational” allegations even before and after they came to court to sue the church for economic exploitation and psychological abuse.
The church claims that the “connivance” between the pastors and The Fourth Estate is “totally unethical, ill-advised and against public policy for a party in a pending controversy to actively resort to the press or news media to wage another war in the media or in the court of public opinion.”
The six former ministers of the church—Bishop Larry Odonkor, Bishop Emmanuel Oko Mensah, Rev. Edward Laryea, Rev. Chris Amankwah, Rev. Seth Duncan, and pastor Faith Fiakojo—granted interviews to The Fourth Estate about their “ordeals” in Lighthouse, resulting in the “Darkness in a Lighthouse” series, published in April 2021.
Lighthouse argues for contempt of court
But the church is set to argue before a High Court judge, Justice Frank Aboadwe Rockson, that the pastors and The Fourth Estate had a “preconceived intention” to “muddy the waters of litigation even before the suits were filed.”
To establish this point, Lighthouse Chapel International says the pastors are throwing allegations in the public space that are not contained in the suits they have filed in court. To the understanding of the church, this constitutes contempt.
In the contempt documents obtained by The Fourth Estate, the church lists 19 differences between the “Darkness in a Lighthouse” publications and the suits filed by the pastors.
The church is pointing out these differences to prove that “all three publications and each of them taken as a whole or independently is contempt of court personified.”
It also says the pastors should have included the church’s responses to their allegations when they were granting interviews to The Fourth Estate.
For the church, it is also contempt of court that the pastors gave documents to The Fourth Estate which was used to conclude that the decision of SSNIT to deny the pastors their outstanding pension contribution is questionable.
The Fourth Estate has obtained copies of the responses filed by the pastors. They reject the claims made by their former church, describing them as “bizarre.”
Lighthouse just wants to confuse the court – pastors respond
In their very similar responses, the former employees contend that the application brought against them is “ill-conceived”, “frivolous”, “unmeritorious” and a waste of the court’s time.
They point out that even the church admits in its statement that the interviews which formed the basis for the “Darkness in a lighthouse” series were conducted way before the pastors came to court.
Indeed, on page 5 of the church’s statement of claims against the pastors, it acknowledges that “the interviews were granted over a considerable period of time well before the commencement of the suits.”
They maintain that they cannot be held in contempt for publications made by The Fourth Estate. “I am advised by counsel and verily believe same to be true that granting interviews long before a writ is filed is not contempt. I am also advised that media houses are free to publish what they please, when and how they please and take responsibility for it as The Fourth Estate has done.”
“Suggesting that my interview with a journalist granted long before a writ was filed is in contempt of this court is particularly frivolous and vexatious, especially when applicant has sued the publisher. Claiming that these interviews are contemptuous when they do not breach any order of the court, or bring it into disrepute, is wholly misconceived…” a portion of Rev. Edward Laryea’s defence statement reads.
Indeed, the church has already sued ‘The Fourth Estate’ for contempt of court.
Dismissing the argument that they should have included the church’s side of the story when they granted the interviews, the pastors say they found this charge “bizarre.”
“Applicant states in their own averments that the interviews were held before their denials were even drafted or filed, and therefore could not have been known at the time of the interviews.
“Further still, the suggestion that I should convey the contents of their denials in my interview, is most bizarre! especially when they have a legion of journalists publishing things for them.”
The pastors say the church should focus on the allegations made in court because “those interviews are not before this court.”
Apart from the contempt suits, the church is already taking on The Fourth Estate for defamation. It has also sued each of the pastors separately for defamation.
The church has not stopped there. It has also sued The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) and its journalism wing ‘The Fourth Estate’ for contempt of court. All these cases are currently being heard in various high courts in Accra.
The pastors argue that repeating defamatory claims in fresh contempt suits, shows that the church is “confusing” the court, abusing the justice system, and wasting the time needed to hear the substantive suit they first filed against the church in April 2021.
Indeed, the judge for the contempt suits, Justice Aboadwe Rockson, is the same judge hearing the substantive case.
In their responses, the pastors expressed disappointment that the church “woefully failed to discharge the burden of proof required of it in a contempt proceeding.”
“They do not show which order was breached, they do not show how the court was scandalised, they do not offer a scintilla of proof that rises to proving beyond reasonable doubt that Applicants herein have acted contemptuously. Rather they confirm their knowledge of the crucial fact that the interviews they complain of were given long before the writ was filed.”
The pastors are asking the court to dismiss the contempt suit as “incompetent” and award a “heavy”, “punitive” cost against Lighthouse Chapel International because abusing the court system “must not be countenanced.”
Already, the courts have awarded 19,000 cedis in cost against the church in the substantive case filed by the six former ministers of Lighthouse Chapel International.
Fresh LCI suit makes it 20 suits against pastors, MFWA, The Fourth Estate
The church has, so far, filed 20 suits against the six pastors, staff of The Fourth Estate, the MFWA, and its executive director, Sulemana Braimah.
Lighthouse Chapel International has also filed seven (7) complaints against the lawyer for the former pastors, Kofi Bentil.
That is not all. The church has also filed at least two criminal complaints against two of the former ministers of God.
In total, the church and its agents have filed 29 grievances against parties related to The Fourth Estate publication.
The charismatic church, founded by Bishop Dag Heward-Mills, is fully gloved for another fight, charging out of the earshot of the high court judge who has asked the parties to consider peace.