By Michelle Boorstein and Avis Thomas-Lester
A multimillion-dollar ministry that includes everything from a 19,000-member congregation to offering paid parking for Washington Redskins games is legally controlled by a board of directors, not the son of the ministry’s co-founder, a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge ruled Monday.
Judge Dwight Jackson’s ruling was a blow to the Rev. Joel R. Peebles, pastor of Jericho City of Praise in Landover, who had argued that Betty Peebles, who died last fall, meant for him to control not only the spiritual direction of the ministry but its financial direction as well. In his ruling, Jackson said that Joel Peebles had no legal authority over the ministry because he was never elected to the governing board.
It wasn’t clear whether the ruling would be appealed, or what its impact would be on day-to-day operations at Jericho, one of the region’s largest and richest ministries.
The battle for control, which erupted days after Betty Peebles died, has shaken the Jericho ministry, which includes the nondenominational church, a seniors’ complex, a business park, a college and a school. The church also has a lucrative deal to provide parking for Washington Redskins games.
“I have buried a father, two brothers and a mother,” Joel Peebles said in a prepared statement Monday night. “And while there are those who desire to thwart the purposes of God, our church family and myself remain strong and confident.”
Peebles’s attorney, Timothy F. Maloney, said he wanted to review the order before commenting.
Isaac H. Marks, an attorney for the church employees who sued to be officially designated as the church’s board of directors, called the ruling “a blessing from God.” He added that the trustees want Peebles to drop two lawsuits against the board, and that board members hope to work in cooperation with Peebles.
“The trustees and Rev. Peebles are brothers and sisters, and we hope the judge’s order will allow reconciliation,” he said.
The ruling Monday follows an incident in church this summer, a flurry of litigation and a failed effort at mediation. The board sued in July after a standoff during a church service over the money in collection plates. A judge issued a temporary restraining order, ordered the board to hand over financial records that Joel Peebles had sought, and appointed a mediator.
The court ruling bans Peebles from “interfering with the day-to-day operations or collection of tithes, offerings, or any other monies” of the ministry. It also ordered Joel Peebles to provide an account to the board within three weeks of any money he collected on behalf of the church.