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Judge dismisses defamation lawsuit filed by ex-First AME pastor

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A Los Angeles County judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit by the former pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church, who alleged he suffered emotional distress when he was removed from the helm of Los Angeles' oldest black church.

In the lawsuit, the Rev. John J. Hunter said that after he left First AME church in October 2012, church officials "embarked upon a campaign to discredit and defame" him "by asserting maliciously false and inflammatory statements as well as taking steps to publicly humiliate him."

First AME filed its own lawsuit against Hunter, who served as pastor for eight years, shortly after he was removed from the church. The lawsuit alleges embezzlement and misappropriation of church funds.  That case is currently in litigation.

Hunter's suit against the new pastor, the Rev. J. Edgar Boyd, and Bishop T. Larry Kirkland and the African Methodist Episcopal church, sought a total of $23 million in damages for the alleged retaliation, defamation and emotional distress.

On Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Kendig granted the church's motion to dismiss the case brought by Hunter on grounds that a recent Supreme Court case limited the state's action when dealing with religious affairs.  

The church's lawyer, Robert Silverman, issued a statement saying the church was "pleased with the court's ruling."  Silverman said his clients plan to seek recovery of costs in defending this case, which they are entitled to under California law.

In a phone interview, Hunter said that although he lost the case, the judge made statements from the bench that affirmed his case had merits.


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