Former Focus on the Family senior vice-president and radio cohost Gil Alexander-Moegerle and his wife, Carolyn, have filed civil lawsuits against the Focus on the Family ministry and its founder and president, James Dobson. The suits allege, among other things, that Dobson pressured the Alexander-Moegerles to resign from Focus, then interfered with his former employees’ efforts to find work.

In responding legal documents, Dobson denied the charges and asked that the complaints be dismissed. In an interview with CHRISTIANITY TODAY, Dobson called the lawsuits “baseless.”

Focus On Divorce

A major issue in the conflict is Alexander-Moegerle’s divorce. In 1985, Ruth Moegerle asked to be separated from her husband, leading Dobson to transfer his announcer to an off-the-air position. In January 1987, Ruth was granted a divorce from Gil, who later that year married Carolyn Alexander, a secretary at Focus. “Theologically, and in other ways, that crossed the line for our board, and they asked for [the Alexander-Moegerles’] resignations,” Dobson said of the remarriage.

At the board’s request, the Alexander-Moegerles resigned in late April, 1987, though recently they told CHRISTIANITY TODAY the resignations were submitted under protest. Focus says the resignations were “voluntary” and that the two left on “amiable” terms with the ministry.

Alexander-Moegerle said the situation remained dormant until he learned that Focus had hired his former wife, a move he felt contradicted the board’s reason for letting him go. According to Sam Ericsson, executive director of the Christian Legal Society (CLS), the Alexander-Moegerles contacted him in April 1988 and asked about alternatives to litigation. Ericsson recommended a Christian conciliation process.

The Alexander-Moegerles then approached Focus with a proposal to settle the matter through Christian arbitration, with Ericsson serving as a facilitator. Dobson said Focus was reluctant to enter into arbitration at that point. “Rather than enter into a complicated legal entanglement involving binding arbitration, when we hadn’t even yet found out what the details of his complaint were, we proposed that we go through Sam Ericsson and the CLS on amediation basis first and find out where we were,” Dobson said.

Ericsson said he appealed to Focus to work toward arbitration. “The thrust of my appeal to them was, where do Christians go when they believe they have a legal dispute, but do not want to go to court?” he said. With Dobson refusing arbitration, and the Alexander-Moegerles opposed to the nonbinding mediation process, the dispute reached astalemate in July. Both Ericsson and Focus apparently thought that was the end of the matter.

However, the Alexander-Moegerles said last fall that they felt Focus continued to show partiality toward Ruth when they learned she had received more than $ 11,000 from the Focus Benevolent Fund over an 18-month period. The Alexander-Moegerles claim Ruth used the Focus funds in legal action against them, involving custody of one of the children. Dobson defended the payments on grounds that Ruth was destitute: “Ruth and Gil were on our staff for seven years, and we felt a responsibility to help them when the relationship [with Focus] ended.” Dobson said Alexander-Moegerle had received “a generous severance when he left the ministry,” but because of the divorce and ensuing legal and custody battles, Ruth did not “have the money to survive.”

According to Dobson, about 1 percent of the ministry budget goes to the Focus Benevolent Fund, and checks are given to help families that are “really struggling.” He acknowledged that the donation to Ruth “probably exceeded other gifts” from the fund, but noted that “this was not only benevolence, but sort of a severance, too.”

Going To Court

The Alexander-Moegerles decided to proceed with their legal action and filed suit in November. In addition to protesting the circumstances surrounding the Alexander-Moegerles’ resignations, the lawsuits charge that Dobson and Focus “intended to cause [Alexander-Moegerle] to loose [sic] future business and work with sources inside and outside the industry in which Focus was engaged.” Specifically, the suit cites a canceled book contract with Fleming Revell, and a terminated contract with broadcaster Tony Evans. Dobson told CHRISTIANITY TODAY he has “not interfered with Gil Alexander-Moegerle’s ability to earn a living,” but declined further comment on the advice of his attorney.

Neither side is ruling out a private settlement of the matter. “We have always been open to an out-of-court settlement, and we continue to be open to that,” Alexander-Moegerle told CHRISTIANITY TODAY. Dobson said, “Focus on the Family is very anxious to settle this matter according to Matthew 18 and the other guidelines in the Bible that call us to deal with Christian brothers in a different way than the world deals with conflict.”

Ericsson continues to encourage both parties to settle the matter through binding arbitration rather than through litigation. “Neither party has anything to gain through secular litigation, but the body of Christ has everything to lose,” he said. “On the other hand, through properly structured Christian arbitration, all parties have nothing to lose and the body of Christ has everything to gain.”

By Kim A. lawton.

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