Garcin's Former Law Firm Told to Pay Church in Malpractice Suit

Times Staff Writer

A judge Monday ordered the former law firm of ex-Glendale Mayor Robert W. Garcin to pay United Community Church of Glendale $2.1 million for failing to defend the church properly in multimillion-dollar lawsuits.

Glendale Superior Court Judge Joseph Kalin awarded the former church of the Rev. William Steuart McBirnie the money after ruling that Garcin was negligent as an attorney for failing to contest a $1.2-million award against it.

But attorneys for Garcin and his former law firm--Irsfeld, Irsfeld & Younger of Glendale--said they will appeal the ruling, and it is unlikely that the debt-ridden congregation will be able to collect the award soon.

A Victory, but . . .

Harry F. Scolinas, a Pasadena attorney who represented the church in the malpractice proceeding, said he considered the ruling a victory, but said he does not know when or if his clients will be paid.

"All this money was going to go to these elderly people to pay them off, but it is very questionable whether they will ever collect the award," Scolinas said. "I feel sorry for these people."

Dan L. Longo, Garcin's attorney, said in court that it was unfair to assess attorneys money that should be paid by McBirnie.

The church and other organizations founded by McBirnie were held liable in several suits seeking repayment of loans made to McBirnie by his followers. McBirnie, a nationally syndicated radio and television evangelist known for his anti-communist sermons, defaulted on the loans.

Last month, foreclosure proceedings against the church were initiated by some of its former parishioners who lent it money.

And the church is facing the threat of having to sell its building to repay the loans.

Several Lawsuits

As much as $3.7 million is owed to about 380 creditors in this and other suits, according to court documents.

Kalin granted a summary judgment against Garcin without a trial after Scolinas submitted evidence that Garcin agreed in May, 1984, to represent the church but did nothing for more than a year to contest the award against it.

Under the law, the judgment could not be appealed after it had gone unchallenged for more than a year, Scolinas said.

An appeals court in 1987 upheld the award. McBirnie stepped down as senior minister at the church in 1986. Several organizations that he founded--including the church, the California Graduate School of Theology and the Concord Senior Housing Foundation--were forced into bankruptcy proceedings to forestall creditors.

McBirnie continues his "Voice of Americanism" radio show and the televised "Trumpets in the Morning" show.

He has said he does not control the bankrupt organizations and is not responsible for their finances.

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