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Former regent brings federal suit against Ambassador University

By Mac Overton

BIG SANDY--A former regent has filed a $7 million suit against Ambassador University here, the Worldwide Church of God, top officials of both organizations and several shell corporations affiliated with the church or its pastor general, Joseph W. Tkach.

John L. Merritt, M.D., who was appointed as regent in 1989, filed the suit Aug. 31 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas at Marshall. He is represented by attorney George Crow of Houston.

In the suit, Dr. Merritt alleges that actions taken at a June 16 meeting of the AU board of regents were illegal because he was a member but was not notified of the meeting and that, without him, there were not enough voting members for the board to legally transact business.

Dr. Merritt, who resides in Laguna Hills, Calif., also contends he was disfellowshipped on false grounds for part of a day in May and again on June 23.

The suit seeks "civil action for damages under the common law theories of defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud, invasion of privacy, collusion and civil conspiracy."

He also maintains that his disfellowshipment was for the purpose of removing him from the AU board. Dr. Merritt also contends that the disfellowshipment of three other regents--Daniel Salcedo of Los Angeles, Harold Treybig of Houston and Carl Sable of Big Sandy--was also on false grounds and was also for the purpose of removing them from the AU board.

The Merritt suit states that his disfellowshipment violates reasons cited as valid for disfellowshipment by Mr. Tkach in a Jan. 7 videotaped sermon, which was played in WCG congregations. Dr. Merritt also states that he was libeled by the publication of the disfellowshipment letters.

In the sermon, Mr. Tkach said, "Times past I'll tell you . . . wooha . . . we were quick to put people out of the church. And Mr. [Herbert W.] Armstrong said . . . one of the main . . . main reasons was only for causing division and secondly for untold sex acts. As we find the fornicator there in I Cor. 5. But we put people out for every kind of thing imaginable under the heavens . . . it is high time we became shepherds and not sheriffs.

"Too many were very fast . . . quick on the draw with their spiritual guns to shoot people down. . . ."

Dr. Merritt states that publication of the letters damaged his "reputation of honesty, stability, and trustworthiness in his community and in his profession."

He alleges that "defendants maliciously published the letter complained of . . . with the knowledge that it was false" and "the letter was published with reckless and heedless disregard for the truth or falsity of the publication. Alternately, the letter was published out of personal animosity toward plaintiff, and had no factual basis."

Dr. Merritt further contends that actions of defendants "in furtherance of this plan to remove regents by disfellowshipment, constitutes fraud, collusion, and/or arbitrariness."

Seeks reinstatement

He seeks his reinstatement, the reinstatement of Messrs. Treybig, Sable and Salcedo, and a declaration declaring the June 16 regents' meeting and actions taken there as void, including the appointment of Dr. Russell Duke as AU president pro tem and the appointment of five new regents to the board.

AU director of institutional advancement Tom Delamater said Sept. 1 he had not seen the suit and would not comment on it.

Dr. Duke did not return phone calls.

Ralph Helge, attorney for AU and the WCG, said Sept. 1 that he was unaware of the suit and could not comment on it until he had read it.

Dr. Merritt had filed a suit in 115th District Court in Gilmer in July seeking his reinstatement and the overturn of actions taken at the June 16 board meeting.

That suit was dropped July 27, after a visiting judge lifted an injunction and temporary restraining order Dr. Merritt had obtained against the university.

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