Commissioners select defense attorney in prayer battle
SALISBURY — Attorney David Gibbs III of the National Center for Life and Liberty will defend the Rowan County commissioners’ use of sectarian prayer, and he won’t charge the county for doing so.
County leaders unanimously voted to retain Gibbs’ services after more than an hour of discussion in closed session Monday. Gibbs, the president and general counsel for the National Center for Life and Liberty, is donating his time, according to commission Chairman Jim Sides.
“There are a number of organizations that represent individuals, churches, governmental entities across the United States in the matter such as the case that has been brought against us by the ACLU,” Sides told a nearly empty meeting room following the vote.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against commissioners on behalf of three Rowan residents earlier this month. The civil rights organization maintains county leaders’ practice of having sectarian prayer before meetings is unconstitutional.
Commissioners claim First Amendment protection.
Sides said other organizations, like the Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice, are expected to file supplemental briefs in support of the county.
“A number of those groups, their attorneys will be assisting attorney Gibbs in this lawsuit,” he said. “Some of them will be filing motions and briefs and so forth. It’s just a matter of we have to have a lead attorney in order to make sure that motions get filed, things get taken care of on time.”
Gibbs was one of two attorneys who met with commissioners behind closed doors. Sides said commissioners also had a speaker phone operating in the closed session. It’s unclear how many other firms were involved. A Dallas, Texas, resident, Gibbs has maintained the lead counsel in a high-profile case before.
He represented the parents of Terri Schiavo in their unsuccessful fight to keep their daughter on life support in a contentious case that drew national attention. The family appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court; the court declined to intervene.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.