Couple Accepts $75,000 Settlement
CARMEL, N.Y. (AP) _ A couple labeled adulterers from the pulpit have accepted $75,000 as settlement for their $1 million suit against a pastor and a fundamentalist church.
The settlement was announced just as closing arguments were to begin in the couple’s suit charging breach of clerical confidentiality.
The arguments were delayed an hour when an alternate juror forgot to return to court Tuesday afternoon. During the delay, negotiations between the two sides began in ernest, said Elliot Fixler, the attorney for Marilyn Negersmith and Robert Falk, the couple who brought the suit.
Although Mrs. Negersmith, 44, and Falk, 43, were initially reluctant to settle, efforts by State Supreme Court Judge Fred Dickinson aided the agreement, Fixler said.
Mrs. Negersmith and Falk had sued the Mission Church and its pastor, Joseph De Sha, charging he breached clerical confidentiality by publicly censuring them through a statement to the congregation on March 20, 1983.
A letter authorized by De Sha and read by an assistant pastor called the couple adulterers who had ″fallen into moral impurity.″
The couple had left their spouses to move in with each other in January 1983. They later separated and then got back together and plan to marry in September, they said. They said they had had conversations with De Sha which they considered confidential.
Testimony from church leaders, including De Sha, indicated the action was taken because Falk and Mrs. Negersmith had been church leaders. Falk was church treasurer, and Mrs. Negersmith founded a Christian Girl Scout group.
Falk, a general contractor, once was De Sha’s business partner.
De Sha was not at the courthouse when the settlement was announced. He was reached by phone at home, but declined comment, except to say he did not think the settlement showed he had violated confidentiality.
Fixler said such a case had never come before a court. He said he believed it set a legal precedent.
Church attorney Eugene Burns of the Covenant Insurance Co. of Hartford, Conn., said both sides decided it was more prudent to agree on a settlement than submit the case to the jury.
Burns said no liability had been found. However, Fixler maintained his clients had been vindicated.