Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University Added To RICO Lawsuit Over The Kidnapping of Isabella Miller
Back in 2009, Lisa Miller, a self-declared “former lesbian” became a hero to the Religious Right for defying legal orders to allow her former partner, Janet Jenkins, to see their daughter. After the couple had separated, Miller had moved from Vermont to Virginia, where she joined Jerry Falwell’s church, renounced her homosexuality and then refused to allow Jenkins to see the daughter they had had together. During the legal battle, Miller was represented by Liberty Counsel’s Mat Staver and lawyers affiliated with Liberty University, both of which are connected to Falwell’s church.
Eventually, due to her intransigence and refusal to follow visitation orders, a judge in Vermont ordered Miller to transfer custody to Jenkins, but Miller refused and disappeared with her daughter.
Eventually, it was discovered that Miller had fled the country and, according to an FBI affidavit, wound up at a home in Nicaragua owned by Philip Zodhiates, a Religious Right activist whose daughter just so happened to be an administrative assistant at Liberty University Law School, where Miller’s Liberty Counsel attorneys, Mat Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, both worked. Even more amazingly, Miller’s attorneys reportedly just so happened to be teaching law students at Liberty University that Christian lawyers handling a case like Miller’s have a religious duty to counsel their client that they have an obligation to ignore the law and engage in “civil disobedience” in order to uphold God’s law.
n 2012, Liberty Law School was hit with a RICO lawsuit by Jenkins for allegedly playing a role in Miller’s kidnapping of their daughter, while Zodhiates was charged with conspiracy and international parental kidnapping in federal court.
Last year, Philip Zodhiates, whose daughter, Victoria Hyden, worked for Staver and Lindavendsen at the Liberty University School of Law, was convicted over his role in the kidnapping, of Isabella as was Mennonite pastor Kenneth Miller, who is not related to Lisa Miller.
In the judge’s ruling dated 3/20/17 the judge added Staver, Lindevaldsen, Liberty Counsel and Liberty University to Jenkins’ RICO lawsuit, the court noted that Lindevaldsen had allegedly been asked to collect some belongings that Miller had left behind when she fled the country and did so while insisting to the court that she had no idea of Miller’s whereabouts [emphasis added]:
In their amended pleadings, Plaintiffs assert that Lindevaldsen and Staver are or have been employees of Liberty University and Liberty Counsel in relation to the claims set forth therein, and that Lindevaldsen and Staver were Miller’s lead attorneys in her family court case regarding Miller-Jenkins. They allege that Zodhiates suggested that he had a “personal option” for Miller in an email to a Liberty Counsel employee in early 2009 should the family courts involved find against her despite her attorneys’ efforts to prevent Jenkins from having contact with Miller-Jenkins. Furthermore, Plaintiffs claim that Miller was held in contempt by a Virginia court on August 25, 2009 for failing to comply with its prior orders. According to the pleadings, she failed to appear at the hearing imposing the contempt sanction and instead held a press conference with Staver and Lindevaldsen at her side. In other communications with RUL [Response Unlimited, the direct mail firm run by Zodhiates that Liberty Counsel used to raise money for Miller’s defense] employees, Zodhiates stated that Lindevaldsen and Staver made representations regarding when they expected the Vermont court would award full custody to Jenkins. The amended pleadings further allege that Miller stated, after arriving in Nicaragua in 2009, that Liberty Counsel had advised her that it would be in her best interests to disappear (presumably through her attorneys or at their instruction, although the pleadings do not specify who at Liberty Counsel provided Miller with this advice).
Next, the pleadings claim that Hyden delivered emails from Zodhiates to Lindevaldsen after Miller fled the country regarding Miller’s needs. Specifically, these emails requested donations for supplies to be sent to Miller and sought to coordinate the removal of items from Miller’s apartment. According to the amended complaint, Lindevaldsen packed up Miller’s personal belongings directly. During this time Plaintiffs allege that Lindevaldsen falsely claimed that she was unable to communicate with Miller to the Vermont family court in an attempt to delay contempt proceedings aimed at locating Miller-Jenkins. As a result, Plaintiffs assert in their amended complaint that Miller was able to leave the United States in advance of September 25, 2009 and remain there past January 1, 2010 with the assistance of Lindevaldsen and others. They therefore bring claims against Lindevaldsen and Staver for the intentional tort of kidnapping and for conspiracy to violate the civil rights of Jenkins and Miller-Jenkins based on discriminatory animus against same-sex couples and against Jenkins due to sexual orientation.
The court declared that while Staver may or may not have been aware of Miller’s whereabouts, his “leadership roles at both Liberty University and Liberty Counsel implicate him in the commission of the alleged torts” stemming from Lindevaldsen’s alleged actions, which is also the grounds on which Liberty Counsel and Liberty University were added to the lawsuit.