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Shorter

Key witness files suit against Lyons, alleges harassment

By MONICA DAVEY and DAVID BARSTOW

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 28, 1998


ST. PETERSBURG -- A key prosecution witness against the Rev. Henry J. Lyons filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging that Lyons and a Pinellas County school administrator conspired to harass and intimidate her.

A Ministry Questioned: more coverage from the pages of the St. Petersburg Times.
The witness, Lynda Shorter, worked for a year as an administrative assistant for Lyons, president of the National Baptist Convention USA Inc.

In interviews with Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors, Shorter made numerous allegations of financial and sexual improprieties by Lyons -- allegations prosecutors relied upon when they charged Lyons this year with racketeering and grand theft.

One of Shorter's allegations concerned Sharon E. Wilson, an assistant principal at Walsingham Elementary School in Largo. Shorter told investigators she once walked into Lyons' office at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church and discovered Lyons and Wilson in a "sexual encounter," prosecution records state.

Lyons and Wilson deny any such encounter occurred, and Wilson, 38, has consulted with an attorney to explore possible legal action against Shorter. According to Shorter's lawyer, Wilson has threatened to sue Shorter for slander and defamation.

In court papers Wednesday, Shorter asked a Pinellas judge to block any such suit by Wilson or Lyons. Citing a Florida Supreme Court ruling, Shorter's attorney, Nathaniel W. Tindall II, said witnesses can't be sued for slander for statements they make in a judicial proceeding.

"The threatened lawsuit is brought in bad faith in an attempt to harass and intimidate (Shorter)," Tindall said in court papers.

A hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

Outside of court, Tindall said Shorter stands by her statement to prosecutors. He alleged that Lyons is encouraging Wilson to sue Shorter to discourage anyone from testifying against him.

"I think (Lyons attorney) Grady Irvin is behind a lot of this," Tindall said. "The whole matter is odious."

Irvin denied any involvement with Wilson's possible lawsuit.

"I know nothing about it," he said.

Wilson's attorney also denied acting in concert with Lyons.

"There is no conspiracy," Eurich Griffin said.

Griffin met with Wilson on Wednesday, but he said no decisions have been made about what action to take.

"I think that Ms. Wilson might even determine that in order to clear her name she might be willing to take a lie detector test so it can be cleared sooner than it would by filing litigation," he said, calling Shorter's suit "extremely unusual."

"We flatly deny anything between Rev. Lyons and Sharon Wilson."

Wilson, who attends Lyons' church, was recently named Outstanding Educator of the Year at the eighth annual YWCA Tribute to Women and Corporations in Tampa Bay.


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