Why Vanessa Long, The Bishop’s Soon-to-Be Ex-Wife, May Be Seeking a Jury Trial and Why a Reconciliation Might Be Difficult, If Not Impossible
I’ve decided to extend a discussion I had with
a commenter Frodos-dojo regarding the reasons why Vanessa Long is considering a jury trial to decide her divorce case against Eddie Long. Usually divorce cases are no-fault, and are decided by a judge by most of the fifty states. It’s quicker and less expensive to have a judge decide these cases. Currently, though, only the states of Texas and Georgia currently allow for jury trials.
There are 13 grounds for divorce in the state of Georgia. They are no-fault; adultery (which includes homosexual relations outside of marriage); desertion; mental or physical abuse; marriage between persons who are too closely related; mental incapacity; impotence at the time of marriage; force or fraud in achieving marriage; pregnancy of the wife by another unknown to the husband at the time of marriage; conviction and imprisonment for certain crimes; alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness.
However, arriving at these reasons to divorce is easy compared to ascertaining how much money one has as an individual or with your spouse, and how to retrieve and divide those assets. The Longs are considered to be rich. They are perhaps less rich since the settlements and since the number of regular congregants has dwindled, but they are still technically rich. Before marrying Long, Vanessa Griffin worked for the U.S. Department of Education in Atlanta as an (office) administrator. She brought a few assets of her own into the marriage; she knew that she was marrying up, and with a man who could confidently provide. She didn’t have to worry about much, so she thought. Especially, when it came to her submitting to his ideas about Xtian love and marriage. If those ideas worked, then the marriage worked. What was his certainly became hers–and then some–during their 20-odd-year marriage. Up to a point, I believe.
After some research and wading through the legalese, I’ve found that a jury trial could potentially be a powerful legal strategy for Vanessa Long.
1. The trial becomes more public, as 12 people must come to a judgment regarding the reasons why the litigant is asking for a divorce, requesting equitable distribution of assets, the amount of alimony and child support, non-marital properties, and so forth. (Child custody decisions are left to the judges.) The litigant must present witnesses, documents, financial reports and other evidence, while the respondent must present counterclaims, competing documents and evidence, and other witnesses supporting his/her side of the story. In other words, Vanessa is requesting that the community judge her case because she, the plaintiff, feels that s/he won’t get a fair hearing before a judge for whatever extenuating reasons. Those reasons could be anything from sequestering of assets or knowledge of other individuals who may have contributed to the breakdown of her marriage.
2. Because a jury trial is more public, takes longer, and invites the community to partake in and judge the proceedings, there is more of an opportunity for the airing of extremely dirty laundry. In Bishop Eddie Long‘s case, as you can well imagine, there is more than enough of that, even personal information that hasn’t yet been aired. Randall Kessler, a family law attorney, says that some litigants in jury trials would rather die a thousand deaths than allow a bunch of strangers (including members of the media) to deliberate over all the gaudy details of the dissolution of their marriages, including depositions and getting up on the witness stand. Eddie Long is just such an individual with his obsession with secrecy, privacy, and with control. Such an outcome could force the bishop to settle, and to settle on just about any terms that Vanessa and her lawyers would dictate, because exposure of all his mess is what he wants to avoid at all costs.
Vanessa’s attorneys specifically petitioned for a jury trial. Beyond all that I have written above, I think that a long period of discovery helps her to find all of her husband’s holdings. Only she and her attorneys can rescind that request, either verbally in open court or in a pleading. I don’t see her doing that. Again, her divorce petition, which was probably never formally withdrawn, is here. Eddie Long may have stepped down temporarily to “save” his marriage, but I think the time for saving it is past. He’s way late for that train. Now the bishop has to catch up to his wife’s shrewd lawyering up, despite any of his bids at reconciliation.
Because Vanessa appears to have gotten her ducks in a row, no matter how tenuously, with her choice of attorneys. If she continues to pursue the case, she can only become stronger. Having her lawyers speak for her at the end of the day after all the confusion whether she was filing and then not filing for divorce was ultimately a smart move designed to sink the Eddie Long-New Birth PR machine and send a message to her husband that she is no longer his creature. Moving out of the Long home more than a year ago and keeping her own counsel was a smart move as well. I can only imagine what went on between her and Long during this year. Some are speculating that Vanessa was probably paid off by Long not to consider divorce proceedings until the case involving the young men was settled, and the notoriety had blown over, as it would deliver the coup de graçe to the bishop’s ministry.
A word about Vanessa’s attorneys. Both are black. Michael W. Tyler of Kilpatrick, Townsend & Stockton has expertise in corporate litigation, including contractual disputes and business torts. No doubt, he is there to untangle and identify assets, stocks, businesses and properties, among others, that the couple currently hold. A partner at KT&S, Tyler is also chairperson of the MARTA Board of Directors. MARTA is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, the subway commuter train connecting Atlanta to its suburbs. He’s considered quite a “super lawyer.” It was Tyler who issued the statement on Friday that Vanessa would continue to pursue the divorce and that any official announcements she gave would have to come through her lawyers and not from New Birth.
Adrienne Hunter-Strothers, on the other hand, is Vanessa’s divorce attorney, but she also has experience in business law. You could describe Hunter-Strothers as junior to the likes of Tyler, but she’s also up and coming. Last year, she ran for a judgeship on the Georgia Court of Appeals, but lost. Her husband is also an attorney who practices marketing law in the area. She’s written a 2005 paper on matrimonial law, in which she outlines how some business transactions are secretly delayed–sequestered you might say–until after the dissolution of marriages, at the expense of unknowing spouses. Hunter-Strothers belongs to several organizations, including the Atlanta Bar Association’s Litigation Section, and Family Law Section; the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys, Lamar Inn of Court, and the National Bar Association, among others.
Frankly, even if Vanessa had been bought off, Vanessa would have had access to her bank accounts–joint or otherwise. She lacked for nothing. If Eddie Long had cut her off financially during this time, the news of this would have caused yet another earthquake at New Birth. He knows better than that. No, I think Vanessa was chilling and weighing her options as Long was cajoling her
and possibly lying to her to come home, and going back and forth but ultimately forward. She was–to paraphrase from Nichiren’s Gosho—suffering what she had to suffer, and enjoying what she had to enjoy. If any of what I write is true, while the case was settled, the notoriety still hadn’t died down, even up to this point. Either Long or his victims or his financial shenanigans or even his influencing his daughter’s graduation would grab headlines every other week, refocusing people’s attention once more on the scandal. And things can only get worse for Eddie Long.
Eddie Long wanting back with his wife after all this? Does Eddie Long truly love Vanessa or does he really miss her being his cover as before? That’s the million dollar question. Imagine: even if they reconcile, his wife will have the upper hand in keeping his behavior in line within the marriage (which is what I believe has happened with the Ted Haggards). That’s not who Eddie Long is. That’s not how he operates. Eddie Long, first and foremost, loves Eddie Long just as he is, the way he wants, and without change or alteration. He’s not in the place where he would readily and hopefully share power to save his marriage. If I were him, I would let it all go. Just let…it…go.
The failure of the Longs’ marriage began when he clandestinely answered those urges–against his own teachings–to spread simoleons among poor, at-risk, and thoroughly disposable black boys in order to get what he really wanted. That’s the moment when he needed to unburden himself to another pastor or therapist who would not break confidentiality, and then to talk to his wife and to get help. But as I observed before, self-criticism and self-examination has never been Eddie Long’s strong suit, just as with most sex predators and egotists. And as other, more mainstream pastors have pointed out, Eddie Long may have had the young men’s cases dismissed, but he was not proclaimed innocent or not guilty of their charges. At the very least, as a Xtian, he should be repenting, but he isn’t and won’t.
Perhaps Ted Haggard’s wife could take him back after his sexual marauding and drug taking, but Eddie Long has to deal with not only religion, race, and culture, but the possibility of facing his own homosexuality or bisexuality. (I also find it interesting that some of Eddie Long’s woes reflect that of Jim Bakker who, before he was publicly exposed, revealed his own bisexuality with a couple of aides in his inner circle.) That may be too scary for him. And with heterosexual black women dying from AIDS or being permanently harmed from STDs at a high rate from
Down Low irresponsible boyfriends, husbands and casual lovers, how could Vanessa take back a man who has been shown to be sexually attracted to and for groping and having sex with young men and boys? It only takes an encounter with the wrong guy for someone like Long to bring AIDS or an STD to his woman–or any other woman (if he hasn’t already). If anything, thousands of black women who have been watching this whole thing unfold the past year would want Vanessa to kick Eddie Long to the curb just on this general principle.
1. standard of living during marriage;
2. earning capacities of both parties,
3. the education and vocational skills of both parties;
4. current income of both parties;
5. age and health of the parties;
6. assets, debts, and liabilities of the parties;
7. needs of each of the parties;
8. provisions for the custody of the minor children;
9. each party’s contribution to the acquisition of existing marital assets;
10. each party’s enhancement of the value of existing marital assets;
11. whether either party has dissipated or diminished the value of the martial assets by wrongful conduct.
Vanessa could be effectively construed as a housewife (Nos.1, 2, 3, 4). While she headed or sat on various religious and secular boards both within and outside New Birth, there is no evidence yet that shows that she commanded a salary comparable to that of her husband or brought in any assets from outside New Birth. She will get alimony, but it stands to reason how much and for how long. She hasn’t been employed for over twenty years in her field. A lot of water under that bridge; she could be retrained, but would it be worth it? Probably not. She would not be living in the same manner in which she and their children have been accustomed on a salary she brought in. Her divorce petition also requests permanent alimony, and payment of her attorney’s fees and the cost of the litigation.
The maintenance of the minor children in No. 8 is also a non-issue; Long would pay for this. Nos. 6 and 11, though, seem particularly embarrassing and incriminating, because losses and indebtedness would hold up any bad or suspiciously sub-rosa investments Long made to public scrutiny–and even Federal interest. Ephren Taylor, anyone? This is yet another reason why Eddie Long would want to quash that divorce petition, and go all out to win Vanessa back even using the force of his personality.
But Vanessa Long appears to me to be beyond emotion; not that she’s completely turned to stone. I think that for most women on the cusp of divorce: when the shock, the crying, the pain, the death of love, and the feeling of betrayal is over, only stone cold logic, common sense, and the need to get the hell away predominates.