THE EIGHTH DAY OF THE TRIAL
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
Yesterday, July 17, was the eighth day of the trial. And, once again we have three accounts from our longsuffering reporters Steve Skardon (www.scepiscopalians.com), Holly Behre (www.episcopalchurchsc.org), and (Jan Pringle?) the independent diocese (www.diosc.com). First, thanks to Jan or whoever at the independent diocese for giving us more substantial detail and less spin--and thanks for dropping off the last two propaganda points from the daily report. We started with four, now down to none. We are moving in the right direction. So once again, a big thank you to our three sets of eyes and ears in Saint George; and keep up the good work.
Yesterday's session was a continuation of the defense presentation of its witnesses. It was apparently a rather tumultuous day in which the judge lost her cool on one more than one occasion. Her tenor has changed noticeably since the Church side started its presentations. The biggest disruption came when the Church tried to place on the stand Robert Klein whose name, for whatever reason, was not on the official witness list (read Behre and independent diocese for the opposite accounts of why his name was not on the list). To say the judge became upset with the Church side is to put it mildly. Most of the morning was spent on contentious, if not acrimonious, back and forth between lawyers and between lawyers and judge. In the end, the court refused to allow Mr. Klein to take the stand. After a delay of hours, the defense did get on the stand Leslie Lott, another legal expert, but once again the judge lost her cool when she realized the witness did not have all the notes and documents the judge thought she should have had. Then, things calmed down a bit as three Episcopalians took the stand to describe their experiences in their local parishes during the schism: Rebecca Lovelace of Conway, Eleanor Koets of Summerville, and Frances Elmore of Florence.
Yesterday's session was a reality check for anyone who needed it. It should bring one back to what this trial is all about. A simple review of the "Chronology" section of this blog shows that Judge Goodstein has granted the independent side practically everything it has asked and granted the Church side very little it has asked. Indeed, the fact that the trial is in this court with this judge is not a random accident. Alan Runyan joined Lawrence's legal team in late 2009 soon after the All Saints Waccamaw decision and quickly became the lead lawyer. This son of Baptist missionaries and former Southern Baptist deacon became a tireless advocate for localism, that is rights for local parishes, and for the local diocese against the Episcopal Church. Within three weeks after the schism occurred (Oct. 15, 2012), the standing committee directed Runyan to begin preparing legal proceedings "to protect" the assets of the pre-schism diocese against the Episcopal Church. Two months later, (Jan. 4, 2013), the diocesan lawyers brought suit in this court with this judge against the Church.
Apparently, Runyan and the other diocesan lawyers had learned well from the first four cases of seceding dioceses (San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, Ft. Worth) in 2007-08, that had not gone so well for the independent dioceses. The South Carolina lawyers resolved to handle things differently. They became much more aggressive. They chose a court and went to court first before the Church side had time to reorganize and get prepared for legal action. It was a brilliant pre-emptive strike. They set the agenda. They did not wait to be attacked and have to fall back into a defensive position. In this case, it is the Church that is on the defensive. Moreover, they brought local parishes (now 35) into the litigation and bound them to the court actions.
It seems to me that the outcome of the present trial is a foregone conclusion. Therefore, it appears to me that what is going on in this trial is not about the trial itself, it is about the appeal. The independent diocesan side has the upper hand now. Both sides are thinking primarily about the appeal that they both know is inevitable. It appears to me that the Church lawyers are trying to get in as much expert testimony and relevant documents as possible into the record and the independent diocesan lawyers are trying to block that. In an appeal, the original court record will be very important. So, good Episcopalians, do not lose heart. The Church lawyers may actually be doing well to lay a strong groundwork for a successful appeal. In my opinion, that's what really matters now.