Judge defers decision on Durham church’s loud music

Nine homeowners are suing a church over its amplified music

jwise@newsobserver.comFebruary 2, 2013 

— Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins put off a decision Friday on whether to tell a Durham church to unplug its amplifiers.

“It’s very important for me to get it straight,” Collins said, after a hearing that lasted more than an hour and a half in a courtroom packed with more than 150 spectators.

Nine neighbors of Newhope Church, on Fayetteville Road near The Streets at Southpoint mall, had filed for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the church from playing amplified music they say constitutes a nuisance and trespass onto their property.

Their attorney, David McKenzie, said his clients don’t want to interfere with Newhope members’ worship; “They just want them to stop doing it in their houses.”

The church’s loud music, the neighbors say, forces them to sleep with earplugs and readjust children’s mealtimes, shakes their homes and makes their property practically unsalable.

They also want the church prohibited from encouraging its members to lobby judicial officials on the church’s behalf.

Attorneys for the church contend that such prohibitions would violate the First Amendment, and that the sound level of Newhope’s music complies with the city noise ordinance.

However, Newhope’s paster, Benji Kelley, faces a misdemeanor charge of violating the noise ordinance. Durham Police cited him Jan. 20 and he has a Feb. 19 date in court.

McKenzie and his clients wanted a ruling on Friday morning, but McKenzie asked for a delay until afternoon to allow him to respond to a defendants’ brief filed late on Thursday.

“I’m not going to hurry,” Collins said. He gave McKenzie a deadline of 3 p.m. Monday to file his response and the church’s attorneys – William Thomas, Jay Ferguson and David Lewis – until 3 p.m. Thursday to respond to McKenzie’s response. Collins said he would inform the attorneys of his decision on Feb. 18, but does not plan to hold a second hearing.

The church and its neighbors have been at odds over loud music for more than two years, and went through an unsuccessful mediation in 2012.

Wise: 919-641-5895

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