Church rent lawsuit moves ahead

Published: May. 27, 2014 at 11:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawsuit accusing two churches of underpaying rent for school facilities is moving ahead.

But an attorney for the churches says the suit only hurts the schools and its students.

"The only changes we've seen as a result of this lawsuit are detrimental changes to the schools," said attorney Erik Stanley of the Alliance Defending Freedom, which represents One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel.

"In fact, One Love Ministries, has left the school and certain after school programs have been canceled."

In a 2012 letter from One Love Ministries to DOE Chairman Don Horner and Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, One Love's Executive Director Gill Berger listed services like student mentoring, free landscaping and donated equipment that the One Love Ministries used to provide for Kaimuki High School.

But that arrangement ended after Kahle's lawsuit forced the DOE to increase rents from $850 to $1,000 a month to about $9,500 a month.

"They are outsiders with an ax to grind ... they instituted this suit out of the desire to ban churches from using public schools," Stanley said.

Attorney Jim Bickerton sued the churches on behalf of local activist Mitch Kahle. Bickerton said the lawsuit is actually benefiting the schools since the DOE is now charging market rents.

"I don't think it hurt the schools at all. It's brought in a lot of money for the schools and will continue to bring in money," he said.

The church's disclosure comes after Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall ruled that Kahle can proceed with his lawsuit against the One Love and Calvary.

But Crandall did toss out a segment of the suit against One Love, which could reduce the amount the church could wind up owing.

Kahle alleged that the two churches underpaid the Department of Education hundreds of thousands of dollars to rent Kaimuki and Mililani high schools for their Sunday church services.

A similar suit against New Hope Church was settled out of court for $775,000, with Kahle pocketing about $200,000 of that amount.

"Our lawsuit is about fraud, about knowingly making a false claim," Bickerton said.

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