Murfreesboro: Costs Mounting for County in Mosque Suit

Sometimes you can make a pretty penny when being an anti-Muslim bigot or Islamophobe.Emerson, Spencer, Geller and a host of others have literally laughed all the way to the bank but in some scenarios such actions can bite you in the butt.(hat tip: Eric Allen Bell)

County’s costs in mosque suit mounting

by Scott Broder

Rutherford County leaders recently added $50,000 to the county attorney’s budget for lawsuits against the government, but more could be needed by the time hearings end for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

“That was one estimate,” Rutherford County Finance Director Lisa Nolen said. “We may have to come back. I have received no bills yet.”

County Attorney Jim Cope gets paid $250 per hour and at least three associates earn $150 per hour. All four attorneys have spent multiple hours in court during six days of testimony before Chancellor Robert Corlew III. The case is scheduled to resume Nov. 12.

Cope said he and his associates have not added up their billing hours for being in court, preparing briefs, holding strategy meetings and talking to witnesses, media and other people involved in the case.

“It’s a costly case,” Cope said. “It’s involving a lot of time by the county attorneys. It’s a team effort.”

If Cope has spent 50 hours representing the county in court or preparing lawsuit motions, his bill would be $12,500 so far for September and October work. If associate Josh McCreary put in 50 hours, add another $7,500. If the other two associates have dealt with it for the same amount of time, each would get $7,500.

Even before plaintiffs Kevin Fisher, Lisa Moore and Henry Golczynski filed their suit Sept. 16, the county had already faced about $2,000 in legal bills from county attorneys spending 11.2 hours researching answers in August to four questions about the Islamic Center issue Fisher presented to the County Commission’s Public Works & Planning Committee.

“I’m expecting more,” Nolen said.

The county has a legal services agreement to pay Cope and his Murfreesboro firm at least a $6,000 per month retainer fee and more if the attorneys’ hours exceed $6,000 worth of service.

The county began this fiscal year July 1 with another $37,800 in the county attorney budget to cover additional work beyond the 12 months of retainer fees that total $72,000. The approved budget was based on Cope’s firm making $109,978 in the previous fiscal year.

The commission decided Oct. 14 to add another $50,000 to the budget to cover the additional work that included the lawsuit defense.

Other legal work includes Cope settling a dispute between the county’s Election Commission and its suspended Administrator of Elections Hooper Penuel; the county attorney office working on agreements to form a consolidated fire and rescue squad department; and a law firm associate preparing a proposed anti-litter resolution.

The county’s defense so far has dealt with plaintiffs seeking a restraining order to stop the county from issuing any more construction permits for the Islamic Center’s proposed mosque on Veals Road.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys, Joe Brandon Jr. of Rutherford County and Tom Smith of Williamson County, have brought up additional challenges in the case. They contend Islam is not a legitimate religion deserving of First Amendment rights because it seeks to take over the country to enforce Shariah Law, and they accuse local Muslim leaders of promoting terrorism.

Brandon also challenged whether the county broke the state’s open meetings law by not providing sufficient public notice of the Regional Planning Commission’s May 24 meeting to approve the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro’s site plan.

The congregation also has plans to build a cemetery there, pending approval from the county’s Board of Zoning Appeals. Brandon has questioned Planning Director Doug Demosi’s role in approving a Muslim burial May 18 on the site.

Some details about paying for the plaintiffs’ lawsuit have emerged in court. Moore testified that she didn’t have to pay anything to Brandon.

“Donations is how I get paid,” Brandon said while questioning her. “You’re not obligated to pay me one cent.”

Other testimony has emerged about donations being paid to Proclaiming Justice to the Nations to educate the public about the dangers of Shariah Law and radical Islam. The group’s website offers an icon people can click on to “Donate to PJTN” and offers the statement: “Educating Christians about their biblical responsibility to stand with their Jewish brethren and to defend the State of Israel.”
PJTN President Laurie Cardoza-Moore has traveled here from her Williamson County home to attend much of the testimony at Rutherford County Chancery Court. She previously spoke at Rutherford County Commission meetings to warn officials they could be liable for failing to protect residents here.

“We are raising money to educate Christians about the growing threat of radical Islam and Shariah Law in our communities,” Cardoza-Moore said in an interview last Tuesday. “I have not contributed to the lawsuit fund.”

The website mentions her grassroots activism since the 9/11 terrorism attacks and a documentary she made, “Lest We Forget” that focuses on “Islamofacism and the war that the U.S. and Israel wage against it today.”

Murfreesboro resident Jeanetta Alford testified that she contributed $100 for what she thought promoted education about the threat of Islam as well as her getting a copy of “Lest We Forget.”

“I think Shariah Law is overtaking the United States,” Alford said from the witness stand. “It violates our U.S. Constitution and our Bill of Rights.”

Plaintiffs’ witness Millie Evans testified that she wrote a $500 check and gave another $100 in cash to the fund because of her concerns about Shariah Law.

“I oppose the dangers of the center in the future,” testified Evans, who’s not satisfied that county officials have properly examined the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “I wish they’d ask more questions.”

Evans said the group has met several times, including at the home of Sally Wall, a retired real estate and development professional, and Howard Wall, a former chairman of the Rutherford County Republican Party.

The Walls have watched much of the hearing from the spectators’ seats, along with her daughter, Beth O’Brien, a former Murfreesboro City councilwoman. None of them have been called to the witness stand.

Howard Wall, in an interview outside of the County’s Judicial Building, said he had contributed a small amount to the legal fund.

In addition to Howard Wall, former Rutherford County Republican Party chairwoman Lou Ann Zelenik has attended some of the hearing, sitting with opponents of the Islamic Center.

Zelenik during her close but unsuccessful campaign to be the Republican Party nominee for the 6th Congressional District seat in the Aug. 5 primary, accused Islamic Center board member Mosaad Rawash of supporting Hamas and “violent Jihad and martyrdom of Palestinians fighting against Israel” by posting these positions on his MySpace page on the Internet.


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