WEST PALM BEACH — A downtown church disputes a former member’s claim that pastors badgered her into donating her entire $1.8 million inheritance to the church.
Lucinda Bennett is suing the First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach to recover the money, saying church officials took advantage of her emotional disorders by hounding her for contributions.
The church denies her allegations, an attorney for the church said Wednesday.
“We dispute wholeheartedly that Lucinda Bennett was coerced to donate to the church,” said attorney Jeffrey Blaker. “She did it freely and graciously.”
The church is asking the court to dismiss Bennett’s lawsuit.
In its first legal response, the church last week contended the lawsuit is defective because it was filed by Bennett’s father even though she is an adult and has not been adjudged incapacitated. The church also says the claims are confusing and allegations of fraud are not supported.
Bennett’s attorney said the church’s motion doesn’t address his client’s key allegation: that church officials took advantage of her emotional state.
“If you know someone has decreased mental capacity and is experiencing emotional problems so bad that you force them into counseling, you shouldn’t accept large amounts of money from them,” said Nathan Carter of Orlando, who is representing Bennett.
The lawsuit claims that former pastor Keith Thomas personally counseled Bennett and was aware of her mental and emotional conditions. Thomas, now a pastor in Mobile, Ala., has not responded to the lawsuit, according to court records.