Member of St. John’s Episcopal says pastor defamed her.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
Rev. William Martin left the dinner party and stepped out on the balcony to sneak a cigarette. According to a deposition given by Kim Rennick, a parishioner at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Martin had downed “quite a few drinks” by that point in the evening. “He was in his cups,” Rennick says. And then, she says, her pastor began badmouthing another parishioner.
Rayn Random, a 73-year-old Monterey woman, is suing Martin in Superior Court, claiming defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent infliction of emotional distress and fraud. Random’s lawsuit claims that Martin “told parishioners of St. John’s and others that Random tried to lure him into her hot tub, that she is actually a man and not a woman, that her breasts were false, [and] that she had made inappropriate sexual advances toward [him].”
According to Rennick’s deposition, Martin told her he had a restraining order against Random. “And he made some comments about Rayn probably not even being a woman, and was that her real name or some sort of stripper name, or something like that,” Rennick says. “I was a little upset…And then he for some reason turned into history. And I thought, oh, good, we’ll talk about history. And he started talking about Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin and what horrible people they were. And I thought, I’ve got to get out of here.”
There is just one point that both Martin and Random agree on: That none of the things he allegedly told people about Random are true. On March 2, 2005, both Martin and Random signed a “mutual release” settlement in which Martin admitted saying these things about Random, admitted they were false, and apologized. He also paid half of her legal fees, and both parties agreed to drop the court battle.
Random says later that same month, however, Martin started defaming her again. On Feb. 10, 2006, Random filed a complaint seeking an unspecified dollar amount in damages against Martin, St. John’s and the Diocese of El Camino Real. The trial begins this Monday, Feb. 26.
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Random moved from Palo Alto to Monterey in 2000. Her husband had died three years earlier. She had visited Monterey in 1997 to get SCUBA certified and wanted to live near the water, so she decided to sell her house and moved here.
“I bought the first house I looked at, and have never regretted the move,” she told the Weekly in an e-mail interview, sent via her attorney, Neil Shapiro. Random refused numerous requests to talk in person or over the phone for this story. Martin also declined to comment. (In October, 2003, the Weekly published a story about a controversy at St. John’s after Fr. Martin spoke out against the Episcopalian Church’s decision to appoint a gay priest to the rank of bishop.)
Upon moving to Monterey, Random began looking for an Episcopal church in the county and settled on St. John’s—one of only a handful that uses the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. Random wasn’t one to socialize at church. She attended services every Sunday, sitting in the fourth pew from the back, and then she left promptly when the service was over.
Rev. William Martin arrived at St. John’s in January 2001. “I didn’t know him except to say hello when he stood on the steps after the service,” Random says. Several months later, however, a parishioner asked Random to help out with the church’s Bargain Hunt, and Random reluctantly agreed.
“Then, of course, I met a lot more people and, at the request of William Martin, became a participant in preparation of a church dinner, Altar Guild, and I was elected to the vestry,” Random says. “I did a lot of other things for St. John’s at his request. St. John’s was not very well attended and I was anxious to see it grow and thrive. I wanted to help that goal in any way that I could, and I did.”
By all accounts, Random and Martin became friends. But then, Random says, Martin started spreading rumors about her.
In legal documents, Random’s friend Walter Alsky says Martin told him “that [Random] was harassing him, phoning him…that she used to sit in the front pew and goo-goo eye up at him when he was giving his sermon…that he had to get a restraining order against her. He told me there was pictures of him on every wall in [Random’s] house.”
Clifford Bagwell, in his deposition, says, “[Martin] mentioned stalking, he mentioned she was—I really think he said ‘she’s in love with me’ or ‘she has the hots for me.’ ”
Anita M. Steel reported in a deposition that Martin told her Random stalked him, and tried to lure him into her hot tub. Additionally, Steel reported, Martin said Random was a man, not a woman, and that her breasts were false.
“In March of 2003, William Martin started a campaign to get rid of me,” Random says in an e-mail. “He took away all of my jobs for the church, but he never told me ahead of time. I always found out when it was announced that so-and-so was the new person with that job. It was done so as to humiliate me.
“A friend of mine asked a vestry member why William Martin was treating me that way and the answer she got was, that I had made ‘inappropriate advances’ toward Martin. That was not true.”
On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2004, as Random kneeled at the communion rail, Martin denied her communion. Less than a month later, she received a hand-delivered letter from St. John’s saying that if she ever returned to the parish, she would be trespassing. She also received a letter from the bishop telling her to find another church.
Random hired an attorney to file suit against Martin. “I still only wanted an apology and for him to stop spreading his lies,” she says. On March 5, 2005, the two signed the mutual release, Martin apologized and Random thought that the ordeal was over.
Ten days later, however, according to minutes from a St. John’s Vestry meeting, Martin changed his story. Martin told members of the vestry that he had singed the mutual release “to avoid litigation and publicity,” according to the minutes. “Fr. Martin expressed frustration and pain at the fact that the matter did not seem to have any closure.
“The Junior Warden…commented that as a group, it was our responsibility to support the Church and the Rector, and the minute we lose our Priest, we will cease to exist.”
• • •
On Oct. 16, 2005, Random tried to attend the 10:30am service at St. Johns. But when she got to the church, three vestry members stood waiting for her at the foot of the steps. They told her to leave.
The same thing happened the following Sunday, on Oct. 23, 2005. This time, Random brought Clifford Bagwell and Walter Alsky with her. Both are active on the nonprofit-benefit circuit on the Peninsula, and both had previously been friends with Martin. Bagwell says one of the men guarding the church entrance started towards him.
“I don’t know if he was going to put his hands on me,” Bagwell says. “And I said, ‘Don’t touch me, and don’t touch the lady and don’t you dare touch Walter. We are going inside to worship.’ And we went in, the fourth row, we did not disrupt that service. Well, the priest in question delayed it, when he found out we were there. And the organist was told to play more music. He didn’t know what was happening. And 20 minutes went by and the priest refused to come in.”
Bagwell says the priest refused Random communion and that the usher refused his offering, too. “I had my check,” he recalls. “I put it in the envelope. I tried to put it in the basket, and he said, ‘No.’ ”
After the service, Bagwell walked outside and saw two police officers. “I walked over to them and said, ‘I’m Cliff Bagwell. I’m one of the parties that I’m sure you want to talk to, and if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go over and get the lady in question.”
The police talked to Random, Bagwell, Alsky, and other parishioners, but didn’t arrest anyone. Nothing came of it.
Bagwell, a retired hairstylist, insists that his friend has been wronged by a man of the cloth. Random’s a proper lady, he says, who doesn’t cuss or like to hear off-color jokes.
“What this priest has done,” Bagwell says, “has scarred her life, her reputation, her stability. It’s stripped her of her self-esteem. In our small city, people know one another. I’ve been to some benefits where she makes an entrance and they sort of turn their backs on her.
“I find it unacceptable, appalling, the things he had told me, the things other people have told me. It’s not right. And so, my parents instilled in me integrity, honesty and to not be afraid to speak out and tell the truth. I have nothing to gain from this, other than my friend has been damaged and so I’m willing to step up and defend her.”
The church’s schedule lists a 10am Wednesday communion service. But on a recent Wednesday at 10am church doors are bolted closed and no one answers the office doorbell. A parishioner who identifies herself as “Mrs. Evan Williams” sits on a bench in the courtyard. She planned to attend communion but now she’s waiting for a cab to drive her home. Williams’ husband, now deceased, was a priest, and her son is a priest. “Fr. William is one of the best,” she says. “But they are very vulnerable.”
She says she doesn’t know the details of the lawsuit. “I think the congregation is behind Fr. Martin,” she says. “We had our annual meeting recently—it was well attended—and he mentioned it was happening. But it’s distracting. It could be the reason he’s not here.”
A few hours later, I return to the church and ring the office doorbell. This time, Martin answers. He’s talking on the phone, but he motions me inside. He hangs up, and I tell him I’d like to interview him about the lawsuit. His eyes widen and his face flushes. He holds his hands up, palms facing me. “No comment,” he says, and refers me to his lawyer.
Martin’s attorney, Michael Levangie, calls it an “unfortunate situation.”
“Someone is trying to contrive a situation of harassment to put the pastor in disrepute,” he says. “Firing back with missives about one another is not healthy.”
Levangie says he doesn’t know how it got this bad.
“She [Random] apparently felt spurned for some reason, but there was no reason,” he says. “There was nothing between them but friendship, anyway. From our position this case was resolved [through the mutual release] and should remain resolved among the parties.
“Fr. Martin is devastated by the fact that this is going on. He has done everything to put to rest an unfortunate incident in his parish, and he feels he has been attacked, unfairly and unjustly.”