NASHVILLE – Up to $2 million of Cooperative Program funds will be paid by the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) Executive Committee (EC) to cover legal fees of its newly-retained law firm that supports the Nashville Pride festival, the LGBTQ Bar, and is praised by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the nation’s largest LGBTQ organizations.
Bradley Legal was highlighted in Human Rights Campaign’s material, and the firm has touted the link in several releases. “Bradley is pleased to announce that the firm scored a 90 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI), the nation’s foremost benchmarking survey and report measuring corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ+ workplace equality,” the law firm reported on its web site. “I am pleased to see the firm’s hard work recognized once again in the Corporate Equality Index,” said Bradley Chairman of the Board and Managing Partner Jonathan M. Skeeters.
Bradley apparently meets all the criteria for HRC’s “Corporate Social Responsibility,” which would require written guidelines that prohibit the firm’s “philanthropic support” of non-religious organizations that draw distinctions based on traditional sexual morality.
The law firm’s diversity material shows that it sponsored the 2021 Nashville Pride Festival and Parade, an annual event celebrating the LGBTQ community. Bradley also supported the Human Rights Campaign Nashville Equality Dinner. The Human Rights Campaign is a major political player in the battle over proposed legislation like The Equality Act at the federal level and the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act (MONA). Both threaten the First Amendment rights of Southern Baptists.
Bradley Legal also supports Susan G. Komen, an organization that fights breast cancer, which got into hot water in 2012 when it was learned that Komen was providing funds to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest provider of abortions. Bradley attorneys also spoke at a 2017 Chinese Overseas Investment Legal Forum in Shanghai, despite a massive expansion that year of genocide and mass detention of Uyghurs by the communist Chinese government.
The SBC Executive Committee approved up to $2 million in CP reserves to cover its own legal fees associated with the on-going sexual abuse investigation during a Feb. 22 plenary session. This is in addition to the $2 million fee for GuidePost Solutions, also from the EC’s reserves. Tapping reserves for the charges comports with a mandate of messengers from the 2021 SBC Annual Meeting that Cooperative Program funds cover the costs of the investigation, said Archie Mason, chair of the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development.
“If you look at the allocation of CP funds, what we have in reserves is $12.2 million,” Mason said. “What that is, is money we didn’t spend, that was allocated to us out of our 2.9 (percent) allocation (of CP) that has built up in reserve. So that’s been investment income.” The “investment income” was built from money given by SBC churches through the Cooperative Program.
The SBC Executive Committee has now named Bradley as “interim legal counsel,” according to reporting by Baptist Press (BP). (See the BP article here: https://www.baptiststandard.com/news/baptists/sexual-abuse-report-not-the-end-for-sbc-executive-committee/) This means Alabama-based Bradley is stepping into the shoes of longtime Convention attorneys Jim Guenther and Jaime Jordan of Nashville.
“I cannot begin to describe the difference between our current legal counsel and all of the other ones that we have dealt with previously,” said EC member Adam Wyatt, a pastor from Magee, Miss., in a Feb. 22 post on his Twitter account. “The team at @bradleylegal is professional, kind-hearted, and wants us to act with integrity. They clearly understand the #sbc.”
Gene Besen, a lawyer in Bradley’s Texas office, appeared at the Feb. 22 meeting in Nashville. Last year, Guenther said his firm had no choice but to “withdraw … from [its] role as general counsel to the Southern Baptist Convention and the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Guenther’s withdrawal came about a week after EC members voted to waive attorney-client privilege over twenty-one years of documents and emails in the independent, third-party investigation into allegations of mishandling of sexual abuse claims by the SBC EC staff and trustees. That decision, Guenther said, “fundamentally changed the understanding that has always existed regarding communications between our firm and the Executive Committee or the Convention.”
BP reports that Bradley had produced nearly 4 terabytes of data to the investigators, collected from the EC files or from Guenther, Jordan & Price, PC. Guenther’s resignation letter asserted that because the waiver approved by trustees is preemptive and does not deal with specific communications, EC trustees acted “without knowing the effect” their vote would have on the Executive Committee itself, the SBC in general and “those who have served as members or employees of the Executive Committee.”
“Because the attorney-client privilege existed, these persons have on occasion shared with us sensitive information which we needed in order to competently represent the Executive Committee,” it said. “Until now, a decision by the Board to waive attorney-client privilege was not reasonably foreseeable. However, going forward we can no longer assure Executive Committee and Convention personnel with whom we work that the privacy of their communications with their lawyers will be secure.”
The letter also decried attempts to portray attorney-client privilege “as an evil device” used to hide misconduct.
“That could not be further from the truth,” it said, calling the practice “a pillar of this country’s jurisprudence and rules of evidence” for centuries.
“There is nothing sinister about [attorney-client privilege],” the letter continued. “It does not corrupt justice; it creates the space for justice.”
The EC’s willingness “to forego this universally accepted principle of confidentiality” left the firm no choice but to withdraw, it said. Guenther had served the SBC since 1966.
The waiver prompted the resignations of more than a dozen EC members, as well as several EC staff and leaders. And, in February 2022, Executive Committee CFO Jeff Pearson suddenly resigned, saying he supported the investigation, but explained that he had “no choice,” “after my receiving advice and counsel from multiple attorneys.”
The selection and retainer of the new law firm was before Willie McLaurin was named interim president and apparently handled by SBC officers in private meetings, without disclosing the reasons for the selection or the terms of representation to the full Executive Committee. Executive Committee Chairman Roland Slade said the EC officers made the decision to retain Bradley based on a recommendation from former SBC President and Chief Executive Officer Ronnie Floyd and that Bradley had served as legal counsel for LifeWay for a number of years.
“I know with a large firm like Bradley, that they believe in inclusion and diversity,” adding they have 600 attorneys and that he is sure not all of them hold the same views. He said the firm also represents conservative organizations like the National Rifle Association. He said one of the attorneys the EC works with is Scarlett Nokes, a member of a Southern Baptist church in the Nashville area.
Slade said he is satisfied with Bradley’s work. “They have been helpful,” he said.
Bradley has offices in Nashville as well as Birmingham, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Jackson, Montgomery, Tampa and Washington, DC. Its website is https://www.bradley.com/.