A D.C. Superior Court judge has reinstated the son of the late Apostle Betty P. Peebles to the board of the Jericho City of Praise. The decision is likely to touch off a new battle over control of one of the Washington area’s largest and best-known houses of worship.
Judge Stuart G. Nash ruled that Joel R. Peebles and William A. Meadows were improperly removed from the board of trustees in 2009 and that subsequent actions taken by the board, including firing Peebles as pastor after his mother’s death, were invalid.
The church — which Betty Peebles and her husband, the late Bishop James R. Peebles Sr., founded in Northeast Washington more than five decades ago — has grown into a 100-acre campus near FedEx field in Landover, Md., complete with senior-citizen housing, a business park, a school and a drug treatment center.
The church — a nationally known venue for religious and musical icons including Bishop T.D. Jakes and Patti LaBelle — filed papers to incorporate in Maryland in 2010, a few weeks after Betty Peebles died.
The ensuing fight over who would control Jericho has been so bitter that it split the congregation and spawned years of litigation in the Maryland and D.C. courts.
In 2012, the church’s board fired Joel Peebles, escorting him off church property after a Prince George’s County Circuit Court judge gave the board authority to do so. That ruling was later rejected by the Maryland Special Court of Appeals.
Thousands of church members who sided with Joel Peebles have since chosen to worship in school auditoriums and sports arenas. Members loyal to the board have continued to worship in the church complex.
Last year, the Jericho board hired Jasmin Sculark, a barnstorming evangelist known as “The Daughter of Thunder,” as the church’s new pastor. Sculark has been at the church for a little more than a year. On the church’s Web site, Sculark says that the church has 5,000 new members.
Nash’s ruling on Tuesday invalidated the authority of the church board and any of the board’s actions regarding the D.C. church or its remnants. The judge said Peebles and Meadows should be placed back on the board, and church members who sued to protest their own ouster from Jericho should be reinstated as members, pending “a review of their status by the validly constituted Board of Trustees of Jericho DC.”
“Bishop Peebles is very grateful for the court’s thorough and careful opinion,” said Timothy S. Maloney, the lawyer for Joel Peebles. “It shows that the defendants can’t exercise any control over the church and its assets.”
But Sean C. Trice, the attorney for the discredited board, said in a statement that it planned to appeal Nash’s ruling, “and once again establish that Jericho City of Praise is and has always been properly governed. We remain committed to our continued peaceful fellowship, growth as a church family, and the call of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”