Falwell revives Liberty defamation suit, wants personal items returned
Suit alleges university kept .38 revolver, three horses, legal files, among other items
Former Liberty University President and Chancellor Jerry Falwell Jr. has revived his defamation lawsuit against the Lynchburg-based private Christian university that is suing him for $10 million, according to court documents filed in late October. Falwell also seeks the return of personal property he says is being held by the university, including a .38 revolver, the JerryFalwell.com URL, legal files and three horses loaned to the university’s equestrian center.
Falwell’s countersuit in Lynchburg Circuit Court came seven months after Liberty sued Falwell over breach of contract and fiduciary duty after Falwell was forced to resign in August 2020 following a series of controversies. Falwell’s tenure at Liberty was capped by an international news media scandal, as Reuters reported that a former business partner of Falwell’s claimed in an interview that he had a longstanding affair with Falwell’s wife, Becki, and that Falwell watched them have sex.
While acknowledging his wife’s affair with Giancarlo Granda, Jerry Falwell Jr. has forcefully denied that he was aware of or participated in sexual activity between Granda and his wife. He contends that Granda was blackmailing the couple, who met Granda during a 2012 trip to Miami, staying at a hotel where Granda worked as a pool attendant. In subsequent years, the Falwells and Granda were involved in a business partnership in which Granda ran a Miami Beach hostel that was in the name of the Falwells’ son, Jerry “Trey” Falwell III. Granda denies attempting to blackmail or extort the Falwells.
In October 2020, Falwell sued Liberty, claiming that the university made defamatory statements about him after his resignation as president and chancellor of the university that his late father, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, founded in 1971. However, in December 2020, Falwell dropped the lawsuit, saying that he decided “to take a timeout.”
On Oct. 21, Falwell’s attorneys filed a counter claim with Lynchburg Circuit Court, and paperwork was filed Oct. 26 for the countersuit. The 16-page document alleges that the university made defamatory statements about Falwell, including a speech delivered by David Nasser, then Liberty’s senior vice president for spiritual development, on Aug. 26, in which he referred to “shameful” actions and “sinful behavior” committed by Falwell. A later news release from Liberty also claimed that Falwell “lack[ed] spiritual stewardship,” according to Falwell’s lawsuit.
Falwell’s countersuit also makes new charges that Liberty has kept some of Falwell’s personal property by banning him and Becki Falwell from its campus since last year. “Since Mr. Falwell’s resignation, Liberty has wrongfully possessed and controlled Mr. Falwell’s property,” the lawsuit says.
Among the personal items Falwell claims that Liberty University has retained are:
- a .38 revolver
- the URL JerryFalwell.com (which is currently inactive)
- personal items from Falwell’s former offices, Liberty warehouses
- three horses provided to the equestrian center
- legal files from 1988 to 2007
- a collection of books and historical items
Falwell also claims that the university is holding some of his personal property at an 1820-built home in Lynchburg that was owned by Jerry Falwell Sr. and Macel Falwell, Falwell Jr.’s late parents, and was presented as a gift to Liberty University by the Falwell children in December 2019, according to city property records.
Falwell’s attorneys, of the Richmond firm Whiteford Taylor Preston, said Tuesday they had no additional comment on the litigation. Liberty University and its attorneys did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday.
Falwell’s suit does not request a specific amount of money but seeks damages for breaching his 2019 employment agreement, Liberty’s conversion of his personal property, punitive damages and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
Falwell’s revived suit comes amid a new wave of controversy roiling the university, which has the state’s largest online enrollment at more than 100,000 students. In July, 12 women sued Liberty, claiming that they were sexually assaulted while they were students and employees there and that the university created a hostile environment. A ProPublica investigative story released in October included interviews that alleged Liberty “ignored reports of rape and threatened to punish accusers for breaking its moral code.”
Scott Lamb, Liberty’s former senior vice president of communications and public engagement, sued the university last month, claiming he was fired for speaking up about the university’s handling of sexual assault claims, in possible violation of Title IX laws governing colleges’ sex discrimination, harassment and assault policies. Liberty has countersued Lamb, suing him for up to $3 million for defamation and requesting he return all “trade secret” documents in his possession.
Liberty’s board of trustees unanimously voted last week with President Jerry Prevo to allow a third-party investigation into its Title IX policies and processes, but some students and alumni, including an advocacy group known as Justice for Janes, after the anonymous “Jane Doe” plaintiffs suing the university, say this doesn’t go far enough. They are calling for a thorough investigation of Liberty’s culture and the root causes of the issue.
Beginning last October, a public accounting firm investigated the university’s finances during Falwell’s 13-year tenure as president, including opening an anonymous whistleblower website. However, the results of that investigation have not been released, and Lamb claims in his lawsuit against Liberty that allegations about sexual assault that were reported to the investigating firm, Baker Tilly US, were not followed up on by university officials.