Since 2008, the debate in Rutherford County over the Word of Faith Fellowship has bubbled up in an election, a lawsuit and unusual custody case, all involving three former co-workers.
Robynn Spence became the county’s clerk of court after a 2008 special election. One of her first acts was to fire Ramona Hall and Laura Bridges, two Word of Faith members who worked in the clerk’s office.
Spence had worked in the office with Hall from 1993 to 2002, and then went to work for Peter Lane, who had sued Word of Faith several times in the early 2000s. Bridges joined the clerk of court staff in 1997.
In 2010, Hall ran for the clerk’s post as a Democrat but finished last in a three-candidate field in the primary. Spence, a Republican, was elected that November to a four-year term.
Late that month, Hall sued, accusing Spence of religious discrimination in the firings.
In her deposition, Spence denied singling out Hall and Bridges for their religious affiliation. Instead, she accused Hall, a supervisor, of being hard on the rest of the staff and of improperly running car tags through the state’s identification system for the church and her husband, a private investigator and fellow church member.
In her own deposition, Hall was questioned about signing a 1999 arrest warrant against a former church member who had fled the state with his own children.
Hall testified she signed the warrant only because a magistrate was busy at the time and asked her to do so. She acknowledged that she was later reprimanded by her boss for her action. She also said she had never checked tags for the church or her husband.
In her deposition, Spence said she fired Bridges for “unethical” behavior. She cited two cases in which she alleged that Bridges had approached women who had just been sentenced to jail and offered to take care of their children. Bridges and her husband are the legal parents of one such child and are locked in a current legal battle for permanent custody of another.
“That’s not a place that you conduct yourself like that – take advantage of your position in the courtroom,” Spence testified.
Church leaders recently defended Bridges, saying she was approached by both women and only wanted to help mothers in need.
In representing Hall, Charlotte attorney John Gresham introduced statements from several courthouse employees showing that Spence had often criticized the church. He also cited a 2003 anonymous blog posting from a self-described former clerk of court employee then working for Lane.
“It is time Ramona, Laura ... pay for all the pain they have caused,” it said. “WE WANT TO RID THIS GOOD COUNTY OF THESE EVIL PEOPLE.”
Spence testified she didn’t write the post.
The case was settled in June. While neither side admitted liability, Hall received $300,000 in damages and legal fees from the N.C. Administrative Office of Courts.
The settlement doesn’t include Spence’s signature. She told the Observer she refused to sign.