THE SIXTH DAY OF THE TRIAL
By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
Yesterday, Tuesday, July 15, was the sixth day of the trial. As usual we have three eye-witness accounts of the day's proceedings, from Steve Skardon (www.scepiscopalians.com), Holly Behre (www.episcopalchurchsc.org), and the independent diocese (www.diosc.com). I highly recommend that everyone read these three reports from yesterday. The first two (Skardon and Behre) are long and detailed. They are also a stark contrast to the third (diosc). The two sides interpreted the events in polar opposite ways. If was as if two different trials were proceeding in the same room. That also makes the reports much more interesting reading. I think everyone grew weary from the seemingly endless repetition of the well-rehearsed parade from the Runyan side that mercifully ended yesterday. No one can improve on the three reports from yesterday; and I certainly would not try.
All I can offer is a brief summary of the reports. First, the plaintiffs concluded their presentation of witnesses with the six remaining parishes. Then, in the afternoon, the defendants (Episcopal Church and Episcopal Church in South Carolina) opened their presentation of witnesses. They called three witnesses to the stand, Armand Derfner, a renowned constitutional law expert, Dow Sanderson, rector of Church of the Holy Communion, Charleston, and informal dean of the Anglo-Catholic party in South Carolina, and Warren Mesereau, layman formerly of Church of Our Savior on Johns Island. Derfner's testimony naturally involved issues of law in the pre-schism diocese. Apparently, he was interrupted so frequently by Runyan that he could hardly finish a point. Mesereau spoke of how pro-Church information was squashed by the anti-Church parishes, Our Savior in this case. Finally at one of Runyan's frequent objections, Judge Goodstein apparently became a bit impatient with him and said "I've heard lots of testimony that people acted 'because of the treatment of Bishop Lawrence,' in the interest of fairness, ought they be allowed to go into some of that discussion?" Runyan backed down, perhaps mindful of a basic rule among lawyers in the courtroom: never, never antagonize a friendly judge.
By far the most powerful and important testimony of the day came from the Rev. Sanderson. My research tells me that for years before 2011, Sanderson was considered an insider in the ruling clique of the pre-schism diocese. When the Presiding Bishop journeyed to Charleston for her ill-fated visit in February of 2008, Sanderson was the third act in the choreographed performance meant to diminish her, after Bishop Lawrence who preached and read to her from the Bible, and Kendall Harmon, who made a sharp criticism of some of her actions. In the end, of course, Sanderson chose to remain in the Episcopal Church. That must have been a shock and great disappointment to the ruling establishment. The reports yesterday gave opposite interpretations of Sanderson's testimony. Skardon and Behre reported it as showing Lawrence and his allies pre-planned the schism. The independent diocesan report said he testified that Lawrence tried hard to keep the diocese in the Episcopal Church. We will have to wait until the full transcript of the trial is released to get Sanderson's word-for-word testimony. That should occur within a couple of days after the trial is over. For now, it is hard to imagine that a pro-Church witness would get up on the stand and testify for the anti-Church party.
Thus, the trial has changed. The plaintiffs have ended their presentations. The defendants have begun their list of witnesses. These are obviously not repetitive and not rehearsed, and therefore, much more interesting. Also, the lawyers' interjections have become much more contentious as Lawrence's lawyers have greatly raised the frequency of objections to questions and responses. Even the judge got impatient at these interruptions. I expect we will see an easing off in this tactic.
Today, the defense continues presenting its witnesses. It looks as if the trial will run well into next week. Again, a big thank you to our three courtroom reporters who are doing a wonderful job of keeping us informed even if they are throwing in a certain amount of understandable spin.