Daily Journal, California’s preeminent legal newspaper, features Larson’s successful outcome in Huntsman v. Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints et al. in its annual “Top Verdicts” issue.
The special edition recognizes the largest and most significant verdicts and appellate reversals in California in 2021.
Partner Rick Richmond and associate Troy S. Tessem represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“LDS Church”) in the case that “drew headlines because of the unusual plaintiff and his explosive claims,” the Daily Journal reports in the “Top Verdicts” profile. James Huntsman—ex-member of the LDS Church, grandson of LDS Church apostle David Haight, son of LDS Church leader Jon Huntsman, and brother of former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Jr.—accused his former church of fraud and demanded the return of millions of dollars in tithing because, he alleged, his tithes were not spent on the “worthy causes he’d intended.”
“Beyond those facts lay a deeper threat to institutions that depend on donations,” Rick explains in the profile. “If the plaintiff prevailed, this matter could have set circuit precedent in favor of those who give voluntary contributions to a nonprofit and later become dissatisfied. If you could demand your money’s return, it would create a huge problem.”
He goes on to state that, “allowing a claim for the refund of voluntary, unrestricted contributions to [the LDS Church] could have paved the way for similar claims against other churches, museums, theaters, orchestras, universities, and all other charitable institutions . . . across the country.”
Daily Journal notes that Rick and his team “moved swiftly to cut short the litigation, persuading U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson of Los Angeles to grant summary judgment in September.” The plaintiff contended church leaders had misled members over spending tithing funds on commercial projects—specifically, the upscale City Creek shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City. It also “relied on Sunday school manuals and church teachings to support the fraud claim.”
“But the church’s defense,” Daily Journal reports, “argued that the funds used on the shopping center were spent exactly as the church had said they would be, and Wilson agreed. In regards to the larger First Amendment issue, Daily Journal references Judge Wilson’s decision that “Constitution’s Establishment Clause bars courts from delving internal ecclesiastical disputes.”
Rick tells Daily Journal that he “limited his defense largely to the financial facts to avoid a possible adverse ruling on the First Amendment dispute.”
“I went as narrow as I could, because this was a case of great concern to the church. It was extremely satisfying to get a great result early in the litigation.” — Rick Richmond
Larson congratulates Rick, Troy, and all of this year’s honorees on achieving noteworthy verdicts in 2021.
See the full list of the “Top Verdicts” on the Daily Journal website here and the LDS Church case’s full profile here (subscription required).
About Daily Journal
Across Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Daily Journal provides California attorneys with the news and information they need, covering the courts, regulatory changes, State Bar, and legal community. changes Learn more on the Daily Journal website here.