By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus
A week has gone by since the trial ended; and in that time several useful summaries have appeared. Since I was unable to attend any of the trial, I am awaiting the official trial transcript before I offer my analysis of the whole event.
The best even-handed, non-partisan, although very brief, report came in the Charleston Regional Business Journal on July 31, 2014 (www.charlestonbusiness.com). In it, Ashley Barker described the issues in "South Carolina: Episcopal Fight over Half-Billion Worth of Property Now in Judge's Hands."
On the pro-Episcopal Church side, see Steve Skardon's August 3 article "Legal Roundup: S.C. Breakaways' Hopes Lie in Federal, State Courts" (www.scepiscopalians.com). Skardon may well speak for the attitude among the pro-Church side that the Circuit Court was a lost cause, but that legal matters beyond South Carolina may change everything in the state. Besides the fact that the overwhelming majority of court cases have ended in favor of the Episcopal Church, Skardon reminds us that two big issues are pending: 1-the Episcopal Church in South Carolina's appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that has been waiting for months; and 2-the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that is now bolstered by three other major denominations: Methodist, Presbyterian, and Greek Orthodox. In short, even though the Episcopal Church may lose temporarily on the local level, this may very well be trumped on the higher levels.
On the pro-independent diocese side, Joy Hunter and Jan Pringle have given us a handy summary "Trial Ends: Highlights from the Trial of the Diocese of SC vs. TEC and TECSC" (www.diosc.com). They held that all of the pro-TEC witnesses failed miserably and that Lawrence's testimony set the record straight about his role. Their article reflects well the old diocesan leadership's attitudes. Long ago they established a strategy of the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense; and it worked remarkably well in the trial. The leaders of the old diocese have every reason to be in a celebratory mood as they have only to await the ruling that everyone knows is coming.
Also on the pro-independent diocese side is the article of A.S. Haley, "Making Sense of the Trial in South Carolina" (http://accurmudgeon.blogspot.com). Haley is well-known as the lawyer blogger who gives detailed interpretations of matters of Episcopal Church litigation. In this article he opines at length about the strengths of the diocesan presentations and the failures of the Church side although he was not present in the courtroom. One should bear in mind that Haley was one of the lawyers who argued the secessionist diocesan side against the Episcopal Church side in the recent San Joaquin trial in Fresno. In that trial, Judge Donald Black handed down a tentative ruling on May 5 finding all in favor of the Church side and completely against the secessionist side. Black's words were so clear and simple they merit repeating here: "Diocesan bishops are at all times subject to and bound by the Church's Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. None of these documents authorizes a diocesan Bishop to waive, to declare null and void, or modify, or amend any of the Church's Constitutions and Canons." Judge Goodstein would do well to ponder those words.
Another lengthy pro-independent diocese article is by Mary Ann Mueller, "St. George SC: In the Adversarial Courtroom Truth is Lost in the Mix" (www.virtueonline.org). Her views are close to Haley's. She emphasizes the effectiveness of neutral principles in this case.