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Founder to Leave Christian Law School, Ending Dispute

January 11, 1989|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

The internationally known founder of a small Christian law school in Anaheim has agreed to leave the institution, the chairman of school's board of directors said Tuesday, ending a year of controversy that included references to alleged moral and ethical improprieties.

John W. Montgomery, a lawyer, minister, evangelical Christian radio and television broadcaster and author of 38 theology books, has agreed to sever his ties with the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in Anaheim, an unaccredited, 60-student night school that blends theology and law to train students for a "principled legal career."

"The board and Dr. Montgomery have signed an agreement where he has separated himself from the school and is starting his new ministry," said David Berglund, chairman of the school's eight-member board of directors.

Montgomery said he could not comment because the agreement was reached through a conciliation service that does not allow public statements. Acquaintances said Montgomery has denied any wrongdoing at Greenleaf, and efforts to remove him reportedly were opposed by a group of faculty members who charged the board with "spiritual arrogance" and unethical behavior in "railroading" Montgomery, who is highly regarded both for his fund raising and recruiting and for his theological arguments and vision.

Berglund, the only board member who could be reached for comment, also declined to elaborate on why the school and Montgomery have agreed to part company. "The differences of opinion we have are theological things, on a man's activities and what a man does," he said. "Nobody is accusing him of anything criminal."

Former board member Walter Martin, an Orange County-based Christian broadcaster who said he has counseled Montgomery on his decision, said Montgomery agreed to enter mediation 4 weeks ago with the Anaheim-based Christian Conciliation Service to preserve the "school's progress. He said, 'If I had to be a casualty to keep the school going, I'll do it.' He went into conciliation to get a minimal agreement, which he did get."

In an Oct. 28 letter to Montgomery, John Wanvig, chairman of a board-appointed committee investigating the former dean, outlined the allegations, saying they included "circumstances surrounding your divorce. . . ."

The letter mentioned other allegations, details of which were unavailable.

Berglund said that in the midst of controversy, Montgomery stepped down last May as dean and administrator of the school and received a 2-year contract as a professor, but immediately took a year's sabbatical.

Complaints Raised Year Ago

Complaints against Montgomery were first raised more than a year ago by Christian broadcaster John Stewart, a teacher at the school until 1987 and a prominent figure in the Jim Bakker-Jessica Hahn scandal. Complaints originally were brought to the board members by Stewart and Leonard Stitz, a lawyer and former dean of students.

In 1987, Stewart, then a teacher of biblical studies at the school, had helped Orange County lawyer Paul Roper draft a lawsuit intended to force televangelist Jim Bakker to reveal his affair with Jessica Hahn.

Because of his role in confronting Bakker, Stewart said, those at the school who had complaints about Montgomery came to him with allegations of Montgomery's abrasive treatment of staff and his marital situation. Stewart said he and Stitz took those complaints to the board to "let them resolve it. They spent a year and a half trying to get to the bottom of things."

Central to the complaints are a divorce that Montgomery's ex-wife, Joyce, claimed was completed in 1985 without her knowledge.

In a court document, she said that the couple had sought a divorce and signed a property settlement in 1977, but that she thought they had reconciled. Since then they had "lived together as man and wife, sharing the same house, having marital relations, filing joint income tax returns, and entertaining professional and business friends as a married couple," she said in court papers.

She said she found out he had requested and obtained a final judgment when her son found the papers, which had been mailed to their home in Orange.

'Married in Eyes of God'

Montgomery "informed me that the divorce did not matter, because we had a valid common-law marriage and that 'we were still married in the eyes of God.' Because my husband is a minister and an attorney, I believed him. . . ," Joyce Montgomery said.

She also alleged that Montgomery had physically attacked her several times--once in February because she had turned a heater on. On an earlier occasion, she said, she had to go to a hospital emergency room because of "severe beatings and kicks in the back" by Montgomery.

Montgomery denied the allegations of physical abuse, claiming his wife initiated "provoking conflicts."

"She has refused to cook any of my meals for the past several years and for the past 18 months has rejected all marital intimacy," he claimed in court documents.

Joyce Montgomery declined comment on the divorce.

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