The Rev. David Moyer, the outspoken former Episcopal priest who unsuccessfully sued his bishop in 2008 for sacking him, has filed a malpractice lawsuit against the lawyer who represented him - often free - for many years in his battles with the diocese.
The suit, filed in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, alleges that prominent Philadelphia litigator John Lewis and the firm of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads failed to adequately represent Moyer in the unusual trial against Bishop Charles E. Bennison Jr. and then failed to file an appeal when the jury rejected their claim.
Moyer and the Church of the Good Shepherd in Rosemont - where he serves as rector despite his ouster by the diocese in 2002 - are seeking millions of dollars in compensation for the legal costs of the trial and what they say is damage to Moyer's and the parish's reputations.
The lawsuit has sharply divided the Main Line parish, however, and angered some of Moyer's conservative supporters around the diocese who supported his public challenges to liberal trends in the Episcopal Church.
"David Moyer has sold out his friend and champion for 30 pieces of silver," said Ray Kraftson, a lawyer who helped raise funds for Moyer's lawsuit against Bennison.
Martha Eischen, a former vestrywoman and tithing member of Good Shepherd for most of her 70 years, called the lawsuit "a sin" and quit the parish because of it.
Some estimates say as many as 40 other parishioners have left the church, which lists 155 households as members.
Tim Tammany, a member of the parish vestry, defended the decision to sue Lewis and Montgomery McCracken.
"It was not something we planned to do," he said. But after a Montgomery County jury in October 2008 decided 10-2 that Bennison had not fraudulently removed Moyer from priesthood, the vestry hired new lawyers who reviewed the case.
"They came to us with what appeared to us to be clear evidence of malpractice," said Tammany. "We concluded that our fiduciary obligation to the parish required that we recoup the money" it had spent supporting Moyer's suit against Bennison.
(In 2007, an Episcopal church court removed Bennison as diocesan bishop for his mishandling of his brother's sexual abuse of a teenage girl many years before, when he was a rector in California. He is appealing the verdict. Last year, the diocese filed suit in Montgomery County seeking a ruling that it is the rightful owner of Good Shepherd's parish property and has authority to remove Moyer as rector.)
The parish alleges that Lewis failed to present the jury with evidence that in 2002, when Bennison was seeking to "depose" or defrock Moyer, he fooled the diocesan standing committee into supporting him by concealing letters from the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church urging him not to do so.
Lewis said yesterday he did not present those letters because members of the standing committee told him they already knew of the presiding bishop's views when they voted for Moyer's ouster. And one of those letters, he said, was written after Moyer was deposed.
Lewis said he felt that he had represented Moyer and the parish "very well" in their many clashes with the diocese, and that it was through his legal efforts that Moyer had survived as rector despite his defrocking.
He estimated he had provided Moyer and Good Shepherd with $700,000 in pro bono legal services over the years.
Lewis said he had been a member of the parish for 10 years and had "considered David Moyer my friend" until he heard indirectly about the impending lawsuit this summer.
Lewis, a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, called the lawsuit "not only shocking but terribly sad." He and his law firm are countersuing Moyer and the parish for what they say are unpaid legal costs of the Moyer v. Bennison trial.
Moyer said yesterday he was "muzzled" by his new lawyers and could not discuss the case, but said the lawsuit was the unanimous decision of the vestry.
He did, however, cite a letter he has posted on the parish Web site in which he defended the decision to sue Lewis and Montgomery McCracken, saying the vestry members are "are committed Christians who are entrusted to do what is right."
Eischen said she was incensed by Moyer's letter and the parish's continued litigation, which she said has "completely decimated" its endowment fund and "distracted it from ministry and outreach."
"I don't care who was right or wrong" in the Bennison lawsuit, she said. "David Moyer had a duty to stand up to the vestry and say no."