Philip Brumley's sustained effort to deceive the court
Philip Brumley Fined over $150k for deceiving a Montana Court in a child sex abuse case

Philip Brumley’s “sustained effort to deceive”

MONTANA, USA: Philip Brumley, legal counsel for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and head of the legal department at their headquarters in Patterson, New York, has been fined $154,448.11.  On June 22, 2020 he submitted an affidavit to the United States District Court of Montana wherein he used language that was an “intentional and sustained effort to deceive the court”. The Affidavit was used in two cases involving child sexual abuse: Caekart and Mapley v. Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York, Inc., et. al, and Rowland and Shulze v. Watchtower Bible & tract Society of New York, Inc., et. al.

Written by Jason Wynne.

On June 22, 2020, Philip Brumley submitted a 2.5-page affidavit on behalf of Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York Inc. (WTNY), and Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania (WTPA) to the US District Court of Montana. The purpose of the affidavit was to identify the roles and purposes of these legal entities at the time that the alleged incidences of child sexual abuse took place in the 1970s and 1980s. 

Brumley’s affidavit was curiously written in the present tense. Curious because the crimes of child sexual abuse took place in the past. And the purpose of the Affidavit was to describe the role of both corporations as they operated in the past. Instead, he described both corporations as they operate presently.

Philip Brumley simply described WTNY as a publisher that “was organized and exists under the laws of the State of New York as a not-for-profit religious corporation”.  He described WTPA as non-profit religious membership corporation with “its own assets, liabilities, offices, board of directors, and officers, separate from every other entity used by Jehovah’s Witnesses”. He claimed it is not the direct or indirect parent or subsidiary of any other corporation. He said it has never been registered to  conduct business in Montana and has no contact with congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Montana. He further stated that it does not establish or disseminate policy or procedures, appoint or remove elders, ministerial servants or publishers. Instead, he says, “WTPA exists to provide certain business needs of Jehovah’s Witnesses including, among other things, holding copyright” and “provides international humanitarian aid to communities after natural disasters.”

The plaintiff’s in the case, child abuse victims, were let down by such a misleading affidavit. And this is more disappointing given the fact that Philip Brumley is the most senior lawyer of a religious group that requires its members to be “honest in all things“, including being honest “in the secular world”.

In their motion for sanctions against Philip Brumley, filed on January 10, 2022, the plaintiffs made the following hard-hitting statements:

  • “WTPA had its in-house counsel put forth a false and intentionally misleading version of WTPA’s role in the Jehovah’s Witness organization with the hope that the Court would rely on it to dismiss plaintiff’s cases.”
  • “Brumley’s assertion that WTPA did not establish or disseminate policy or procedure to congregations in Montana is demonstrably false.”
  • “Brumley’s assertion that WTPA did not author/print/publish hard copies of manuals containing WTPA’s policies and procedures is demonstrably false.”
  • “Plaintiffs are not mischaracterizing Brumley; they are citing WTPA’s own documents to show that representations in his affidavits are not true.”
  • “A lie of omission is still a lie. Mr Brumley is a lawyer and he should understand the implications of submitting misleading half-truths to a court with the hope that they will be relied upon to dismiss his opponent’s case.”
  • “Brumley’s lies of omission and attempt to deceive were part of a sustained effort to interfere with the pursuit of truth in this case.”
  • “WTPA did refuse to produce material documents that prove Mr. Brumley’s affidavit was untrue.”
  • “Plaintiffs believe that the sustained and intentional effort to mislead the Court about WTPA’s actual role in the Jehovah’s Witness organization … is sanctionable.”

Before the Court could move to sanction Philip Brumley, it “must find that an attorney acted recklessly or in bad faith.” Furthermore, sanctions can be imposed “only upon an attorney or other individual admitted to represent a party” and “cannot be imposed against an attorney’s law firm.” Regarding a court’s inherent sanction authority, a “federal court may award a sanction of attorney’s fees against a party if that court finds that the sanctioned party acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.”

It should be noted at this point that WTPA did withdraw its motion to dismiss within the 21-day period after having received notice of their violation. Correcting their error in this way would have prohibited the plaintiffs from seeking Rule 11 sanctions. However, the lawyers for the victims of child abuse were not seeking Rule 11 sanctions. They were seeking sanctions under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. This law states, “Any attorney or other person admitted to conduct cases in any court of the United States or any Territory thereof who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys’ fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.”

The Federal Courthouse in Billings Montana where Watch Tower is defending itself against allegations of child sexual abuse

In its order filed August 23, 2022, the Court acknowledged that Brumley’s “affidavit served as the sole evidentiary basis for WTPA’s motion to dismiss.” The Court went on to say, “Plaintiffs’ claims are principally concerned with conduct that occurred in the 1970s and 1980’s. Brumley’s statements, however, often describe WTPA’s role and activities with the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ organization in present terms.” And later the Court states, “It is perplexing that Brumley was capable of describing WTPA’s past conduct on certain topics while on others, such as WTPA’s contacts with Montana Jehovah’s Witnesses, Brumley could only describe WTPA’s present state of affairs.”

When the Court compared the statements in Philip Brumley’s affidavit against documents presented by the plaintiffs in the months since WTPA filed it’s motion to dismiss, there was a number of serious discrepancies:

  1. Plaintiffs presented a 1970 letter from a former WTPA president in which WTPA appears to dismiss a member of a Jehovah’s Witness congregation due to that member’s actions.
  2. In a letter from 2002, WTPA’s Director of the Office of Public Information provides a detailed explanation for how the Jehovah’s Witness organization responds to reports of child sexual abuse using the language of “Our procedures” and “Our Policy”.
  3. A 1997 letter from WTPA wherein it responded to a request from the Australian Branch office to provide “guidance in handling cases where baptized Witnesses are accused of child abuse or where child abusers wish to become baptized Witnesses.”
  4. In a 1987 letter issued by WTPA to bodies of elders in the United Kingdom, it gave this advice, “An elder who receives confidential information that a member of the congregation has committed a criminal offence is under no obligation in law to report that offence to the authorities and commits no offence simply by remaining silent.”
  5. See also letters from WTPA from January 1995 and November 1995; the former discussing WTPA’s role in ecclesiastical matters, and the latter discussing child sexual abuse.
  6. An affidavit from 1986 submitted by Don Adams, former Assistant Secretary-Treasurer of WTNY, described “the structure of the Jehovah’s Witness organization including that of a Governing Body that directs all teaching and congregational activities of Jehovah’s Witnesses globally.” Adams further stated, “the principal corporation used by the Governing Body is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania … Under the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, the Governing Body directs 95 branches through Branch Committees that report their progress to the Governing Body”.

Having considered the evidence before it, the Court found that, “taken together, these documents demonstrate that in past decades WTPA played a more involved and pivotal role in the operation of Jehovah’s Witness congregations. The documents also demonstrate that evidence of this influential role existed and that Brumley, as General Counsel for WTPA, should have been able to access information at the time he made his sworn statements. By seemingly failing to investigate and provide a more accurate description of WTPA’s activities in past decades, Brumley’s actions demonstrate, at minimum, a reckless disregard for providing an accurate and truthful accounting of WTPA’s role.

“After all, Brumley could accurately describe WTPA’s past activities in Montana regarding whether or not WTPA operated offices in the state or was registered to do business in the state. Yet, Brumley chose to describe WTPA’s contact and role in congregational affairs in Montana solely in present tense.

“This demonstrates to the Court a conscious decision to provide only a limited depiction of WTPA’s corporate activities and a reckless disregard of documents and other evidence describing a different WTPA in the 1970s and 1980’s – the relevant timeframe for Plaintiff’s claims.

“Brumley’s conduct permitted WTPA to file its motion to dismiss that then multiplied the proceedings for 17 months through jurisdictional discovery and motions to compel.”

In view of the foregoing, the Court found Brumley’s conduct sanctionable. He was ordered “to personally satisfy the excess costs, expenses, and attorney’s fees incurred by Plaintiffs as a result of Brumley’s affidavit and WTPA’s resulting motion to dismiss”.

In an affidavit from Ryan R. Shaffer, dated September 20, 2022, he and his fellow attorneys calculated costs and fees totalling $190,723.11. The fees and costs were broken down as follows:

In the Court Order filed April 14, 2023, the Plainttifs’ counsel were awarded $154.448.11. The costs were awarded as follows:

  • Patti L. Gruwell $14,363.11

    Costs and expenses litigating WTPA's Motion to Dismiss

  • Ryan R. Shaffer $55,755

    Review of Incoming Documents, Legal Research, Drafting Outgoing Documents, Editing / Finalizing Outgoing Documents, Travel Time, Time in Court or Depositions

  • Robert L. Stepans $7,680

    Reviewing of Incoming Documents, Travel Time, Time in Court

  • James C. Murnion $48,330

    Reviewing of Incoming Documents, Legal Research, Drafting Outgoing Documents, Editing / Finalizing Outgoing Documents, Travel Time, Time in Court

  • Matthew L. Merrill $20,160

    Reviewing of Incoming Documents, Legal Research, Drafting Outgoing Documents / Prepare Mock Hearing Questions, Editing / Finalizing Outgoing Documents

  • Jessica Yuhas $1,920

    Bates numbering and organizing incoming personal jurisdiction documents for the file, Preparing Documents for filing or mailing (proof reading, checking citations, creating and organizing referenced exhibits, creating duplicate filing for Rowland/Schulze case; converting all documents to .pdf for filing), Filing pleadings documents with the Court via ECF, providing chamber copies of filed documents over 20 pages per L.R. 1.4(c)(5), facilitating service of Discovery, Notices of Depositions, and Subpoenas, mailing of letters

  • Intra-Firm Meetings $6,240
  • Total Cost $154,448.11

$154,448.11 is quite a substantial fine imposed on a single individual. Hopefully it teaches Philip Brumley a valuable lesson in Honesty. In chapter 14, Be Honest in All Things, in the Book How to Remain in God’s Love, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, it has this to say, “We must be honest with everyone, including those who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is important to Jehovah that we be honest. “Dishonest scales are detestable to Jehovah, but an accurate weight brings pleasure to him.” (Proverbs 11:1; 20:10, 23) … All of us face situations where we could be dishonest … Many believe that there is nothing wrong with lying, exaggerating, or giving misleading answers … Sometimes it may seem that dishonest people succeed in today’s world (Psalm 73:1-8) … But honesty is worth any sacrifice.” Philip Brumley would do well to re-read this chapter, meditate on the Bible verses, and learn a bit of humility, fix his scales, and be “honest in all things”.  This court order is an indictment of his credibility as a lawyer. And more importantly, it is an indictment of his position as a congregation elder, dictating to his congregants that they must not lie, while he himself has no qualms lying to a court in a case involving child sexual abuse within the organization he represented.

The Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses, through one of its representatives, namely M. Stephen Lett, claimed in a Morning Worship in 2015 that it was “apostate-driven lies and dishonesties that Jehovah’s organization is permissive toward paedophiles” and went on to say, “If anybody takes action against someone who would threaten our young ones, and takes action to protect our young ones, it is Jehovah’s organization.” 

This court case where Philip Brumley lied by omission in an effort to deceive the court was to protect the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ legal entities from responsibility for the crimes of sexual abuse committed against young ones in the congregation by baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses. His actions are proof that “Jehovah’s organization” is not doing enough to protect its young ones. And worse, it is permissive toward paedophiles when it directs its legal counsel to lie to a Montana Court in an effort to hide the truth about how it has handled child sexual abuse in the past. 

In a nutshell, this order against Philip Brumley does not just cause self-inflicted irreparable damage to his own name and credibility, but it causes serious irreparable damage to the Jehovah’s Witnesses organization as a whole. His dishonesty has far-reaching consequences for an organization that claims it represents the God of Honesty and Justice, Jehovah.

In conclusion, it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the work of Mark O’Donnell in this case. If it wasn’t for O’Donnell assisting victims of child sexual abuse who seek justice, Philip Brumley may have gotten away with his deceit.  O’Donnell provided plaintiff’s counsel in this case with the historical documents that contradicted Brumley’s affidavit. You can find many of the documents relating to this case on his website,