Sidney -- Two days before the start of a civil trial in Shelby County Common Pleas Court, The Way International and Paul and Frances Allen reached an out-of-court settlement, according to a Cleveland attorney representing the Allens.
The Allens, who were seeking $2 million plus additional punitive damages that could have totaled more than $50 million, filed a six-count lawsuit April 3 against L. Craig Martindale and the New Knoxville-based religious organization, located at 5555 Wierwille Road, New Knoxville.
The suit alleged The Way and its leadership engaged in a "pattern of corrupt activity" as defined by the Ohio Revised Code "including, but not limited to acts of theft, fraud, coercion, assault and rape."
The suit also alleged breach of contract, assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress, fraud in a fiduciary capacity, defamation of character and civil conspiracy. Along with Martindale, Rosalie R. Rivenbark, John Reynolds, Donald E. Wierwille, Ramona Biden, Howard Allen and up to 50 unnamed members of "The Way Leadership" were also named as defendants in the Allens' suit.
James Burns, attorney with the Cleveland firm of McCarthy, Lebit, Crystal and Haiman, representing the Allens, would not disclose terms of the settlement. "Yes, there is an agreement," said Burns. "I cannot comment on the case. The agreement specifies that the terms of the settlement will not be commented on."
Burns said he believed the settlement would be filed with the Shelby County Court, but the document would be sealed.
Shelby County Clerk of Court employees reported Common Pleas Court Judge John D. Schmitt dismissed the case Monday, but no official documents had been received for the case file. Court employees said that because it was an out-of-court settlement no documents, sealed or not, need to be filed with the court.
Rico Magnelli, public relations coordinator for The Way, confirmed a settlement with the Allens had been reached but would not divulge any more information.
"We are not ready to release anything at this time," Magnelli said. "We will release something on this at a later date." The settlement came after Judge Schmitt on Oct. 30 dismissed two of the six counts -- the third and fourth counts -- in the lawsuit. Schmitt ruled against the Allens' claim that The Way misused its fiduciary relationship with plaintiff to defraud plaintiffs of money and other things of value, and against the Allens' claim of harm derived from the church organization's doctrine of "mark and avoid."
Of the third count, Schmitt's written opinion states the court "cannot adjudicate this claim, because to do so would require the Court to examine and evaluate The Way's religious doctrines and beliefs."
Of the fourth count, Schmitt wrote that "Churches are free to decide, without state interference, matters of church government and discipline, as well as those of faith and doctrine. The Court finds the words 'mark and avoid' would mean little to an individual who had no connection with The Way."
In that October ruling, Schmitt upheld the remaining four counts of the Allens' suit, including the allegation that Frances Allen was sexually victimized by Martindale, Bidon and others; that the assault upon Frances Allen occurred as a result of civil conspiracy; that The Way engaged in a pattern of corrupt activity which included acts of assault and rape; and breach of contract.
The Allens contend the illegal activities occurred during and after their involvement with The Way when they were agents or employees of The Way between 1978 and 1981.
The Allens' suit claims Martindale "willfully and with malice" began a campaign to coerce Frances Allen into engaging in sexual activity with him.
The suit also contends that Martindale, Bidon and others "eventually succeeded in sexually victimizing" Frances Allen between 1996 and March 1999. Schmitt also ruled in October against The Way attorneys' claim that the statute of limitations for assault and battery had lapsed. Schmitt said the one-year statute of limitations was extended because a legal agreement was reached between the parties to allow more time to the Allens and their attorneys.
The Way was represented by Cleveland attorney Louis Colombo and Sidney attorneys Thomas Kerrigan II and Michael F. Boller. The Allens were also represented by Sherman Oaks, Calif. attorney Lawrence Levy.