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The LeFevre family made history in Georgia and across the South, taking their blend of hand-clapping music to the top of the gospel charts during the 1950s and ’60s. Now, a second-generation LeFevre is making Georgia legal history this week in Fulton County, Ga., Superior Court proceedings. But plaintiff Tammy C. LeFevre, who married into the famous musical family, isn’t out to spread the gospel with her suit. Instead, she wants at least $750,000 in damages — from her former church and preacher. Liability has already been established in the case, and the jury began meeting Thursday to decide the question of damages. The trial before Fulton Superior Court Judge John J. Goger this week has been about secrets and betrayal, an affair and its revelation, and a collision between the mandates of the law and the Scriptures. LeFevre claims Pastor Chuck Ramsey of Duluth, Ga.’s Metropolitan Church of God and the church’s former youth pastor, Thomas L. Morgan, betrayed her by revealing a secret she had confided in them: that she had been having an affair with her husband’s cousin. Ramsey, LeFevre says, disclosed her confidences to her husband against her wishes, thereby destroying her 16-year marriage. The LeFevres, who have two children, were divorced in September 1998. PASTOR: HAD TO TELL Ramsey claims he had to tell LeFevre’s husband. To remain silent, he told the jury, would be condoning sin. Leaders of the church — the LeFevres were youth leaders — must have “their house in order,” Ramsey said. He didn’t cause the divorce, the pastor insisted, adding that everything he did was an effort to help the LeFevres. A long-standing Georgia state law, O.C.G.A. � 24-9-22, says communications to clergy by “any person professing religious faith, seeking spiritual comfort, or seeking counseling” are privileged and that no minister, priest or rabbi can be compelled to disclose them. In the LeFevre case, Fulton Superior Court Judge John J. Goger took that statute a step further, ruling last year in an issue of first impression that individuals can recover damages for a breach of that confidentiality. Goger’s ruling sent LeFevre’s claim to trial. LeFevre v. Ramsey, No. 1998CV01802 (Fult. Super. order Jan. 5, 2000). Prior case law on the clergyman privilege statute has dealt with the privilege only as an evidentiary matter, not as a private cause of action. Goger’s Jan. 5, 2000, order found that Georgia courts have recognized private causes of action for violations of other types of privileged information such as communications with psychiatrists or accountants. Last year, in what may have been the first such cases nationally, a DeKalb County, Ga., jury held a psychologist liable for revealing confidences from a patient, a former police officer. The jury awarded the officer, who had told the psychologist he had visions of killing his captain, $176,471 plus attorneys’ fees. In the clergyman privilege case before Goger, the judge found it both “reasonable and foreseeable to extend this standing to file suit for violation of the clergy-parishioner relationship.” Goger went on to find that the particular language of the statute indicated that it imposed a legal duty on clergy not to divulge confidential communications. Consequently, he wrote, a violation of that duty “can qualify as an unlawful violation of a private legal right.” DIRECTED VERDICT GRANTED Thursday, Goger settled the issue of liability in the case, granting the plaintiff’s motion for directed verdict on that matter with a finding that the defendants, as a matter of law, had violated the statute. That means the jury will only decide how much money to award LeFevre and whether to award punitive damages. LeFevre’s attorney, Keith A. Royal of Duluth’s Day & Royal, told jurors in closing arguments Thursday they had a unique opportunity to correct “a horrible wrong.” He asked the panel to send a message with their verdict to other pastors in the community that such betrayals won’t be tolerated. Clergy, Royal said, should take confidences to their graves. The defendants, he argued, engaged in “the ultimate betrayal that a pastor can commit, because there’s nothing more sacred than going to your pastor and baring your soul.” He asked the jury to return a verdict of at least $750,000. But the church’s lawyer, Charles B. Zirkle Jr. of Zirkle & Hoffman, told the jury that Ramsey acted with the best intentions, and simply made a mistake in violating the statute. The problem is, Zirkle said, LeFevre has never taken any responsibility for her actions, including the affair that ended her marriage. Zirkle was assisted by associate Devon A. Petree. The LeFevre marriage ended because there was no dialogue between husband and wife, he argued, not because of what Ramsey did. “The LeFevre controversy,” he told the jury, “is all about money, money in her bank account.” Zirkle said, “I don’t want her punished. But I don’t want her rewarded.” He asked the jury to award no damages. MARRIED IN ’82 TO GOSPEL GROUP MEMBER LeFevre was married in 1982 to Scott LeFevre, son of one of the original LeFevres gospel group. Scott LeFevre toured for several years in the 1980s with a new version of the LeFevres gospel group but never matched the success of the earlier group. According to Tammy LeFevre’s testimony, from 1985-87, and then again in 1997, she had an affair with Scott’s cousin, Mike LeFevre. Tammy testified that in December 1997 she broke off the affair over the telephone. She had just hung up the telephone and was in tears, when, as if by “divine intervention,” the youth minister Morgan called her. Sensing something was wrong, Morgan pressed her, and Tammy confided that she had just ended an affair. Morgan then told the church pastor, Ramsey. Both kept pressing her for several months, Tammy told the jury, to tell her husband — something she didn’t want to do. She said she specifically told Ramsey not to tell her husband. When she discovered he had done so anyway, LeFevre said, she felt “betrayed, speechless, angry.” As a result, she said, she lost her family life. “I went from living in a home with my family intact … from having a husband to not having a husband.” Having been a full-time wife and mother of two, she said, she had no job skills and faced difficult times financially on her own. She now is a flight attendant who makes $17,000 a year. On the witness stand, Ramsey said he knew Tammy didn’t want him to tell Scott, and that left him no choice. He said it was a difficult decision and he had prayed about it. “But I couldn’t just sit on it and let the situation continue,” particularly because the LeFevres were leaders in the church’s youth work. He said he was afraid other church members who had children in the youth group would find out he had known about the LeFevres’ troubles and had not removed them from their positions of responsibility. “Then I’d really be in trouble,” he said. He admitted that he not only told Scott, but two other elders in the church. Ramsey said he hadn’t been aware of the law requiring him to keep the confidences of those he counseled. But he testified that “this law puts the pastor of a biblical, New Testament church in a very difficult position.” The Scriptures in five different places “speak about this particular situation,” he told the jury. He said it was his job, as “shepherd” of his congregation “to discipline, reprove and rebuke” church members. Scott LeFevre, an employee of the Mt. Paran Church of God, testified that Ramsey had informed him of the affair, sending him into what he called “an emotional shutdown.” Ramsey later said he had to inform others in the church, Scott testified, adding that he asked the pastor not to do so. The situation was embarrassing, he told the jury, and still is, “almost a Jerry Springer-type thing to me.” And, he added, “I’ve been in church work too long to know if you tell one, you tell everybody else and their brother.” Ramsey was adamant that “he did not need my permission,” Scott LeFevre said. Scott LeFevre said he had forgiven his wife and hoped to save his marriage, but during one counseling session, came to the realization that she wouldn’t change and reconciliation efforts weren’t going to work. He filed for divorce later that year. He told the jury he bears no resentments against any of the parties and that he loves both Ramsey and Morgan.

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