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Church Isn’t Holding Breath on Libel Award

Times Staff Writer

The Anaheim-based Local Church has been awarded $11.9 million in a libel ruling against the authors and publisher of a book deemed defamatory toward the church, but a church leader said he expects to collect no more than $35,000 from the defendants.

Leon Seyranian, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, last Thursday found the book, “The God-Men,” to be “in all major respects false, defamatory and unprivileged and therefore libelous.”

The Local Church has about 9,000 members in 95 loosely affiliated churches around the country, said spokesman Dan Towles. Members believe each community should have only one Christian Church, so each church is named after the community it represents.

Deceptive Recruiting Charged

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The plaintiffs in the libel suit were The Church in Anaheim and Witness Lee, 80, the leader and prophet of the Local Church.

“The God-Men” charged the Local Church and Lee with having deceptive recruiting practices and exercising rigid control over their members’ lives.

The book was written by Neil Duddy and the Spiritual Counterfeits Project, a Berkeley-based evangelical organization. It was published in Europe by Schwengeler-Verlag of Switzerland. All three were defendants in the lawsuit filed in December, 1980.

None of the defendants made a court appearance during the five-day trial. Seyranian made his ruling based on witnesses called by the plaintiffs and depositions filed by the defendants.

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Duddy left his position with the Berkeley group and now lives in Denmark; Schwengeler-Verlag did not answer the charges made and Spiritual Counterfeits Project filed for a Chapter 11 reorganization in March.

Little Financial Gain Seen

Charles O. Morgan, the San Francisco-based attorney who represented The Church in Anaheim, said it would be almost impossible to force either Schwengeler-Verlag or Duddy to pay without beginning litigation in Switzerland and Denmark. He added that Spiritual Counterfeits Project’s Chapter 11 proceeding has not yet been decided.

If accepted, the Berkeley evangelical group would wind up paying a percentage of the value of its remaining assets, an amount estimated to be between $25,000 and $35,000, according to Local Church spokesman Towles.

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