Thursday, March 3, 2016

IN APPEALS COURT, MARCH 9, 2nd edition

The Episcopal and Anglican dioceses of San Joaquin will be back in court on Wednesday, March 9, in the California Fifth Court of Appeals, in Fresno. The Anglican diocese is appealing a lower court ruling that was in favor of the Episcopal Church.

San Joaquin is the southern part of the great central valley of California with cities as Bakersfield, Fresno, Modesto, Merced, and Stockton. In spite of exceptional and long-term drought, it remains one of the most bountiful agricultural regions of the world.

In December of 2007, the San Joaquin diocesan convention voted a second, and final time (first in 2006) to "disassociate" from the Episcopal Church. They declared adherence to the Anglican province of the Southern Cone and its archbishop in Argentina. Within the next few months, Bishop John-David Schofield of SJ was inhibited then deposed as a bishop by the House of Bishops. The majority of SJ followed Schofield and took the name Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. The Episcopal Church reorganized the minority of the old diocese as the ongoing Episcopal Church diocese. ADSJ now has 41 local churches while EDSJ has 19. In 2009, ADSJ was a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America.

In 2008, the Episcopal bishop, Jerry Lamb, brought suit against Schofield claiming rights and property of the old diocese. On July 21, 2009, Judge Adolfo Corona, of the Superior Court of California, Fresno County, issued a decision completely in favor of the Episcopal side. He recognized that the Episcopal Church was a hierarchical institution with all that that entailed. Schofield appealed to the California Fifth Court of Appeals. On November 11, 2010, this court overturned Corona's decision remanding the case to be reheard under "neutral principles," that is, judging on property laws while treating the two side neutrally. The case went back to the Superior Court, Fresno County where Judge Donald Black held a hearing in January of 2014. The highlight of this was a videotaped deposition made by Schofield who had died in October of 2013. On May 5, 2014, Black issued a sweeping decision that was resoundingly favorable to the Episcopal Church. Black's decision was the strongest support for the Episcopal Church that any court in America has issued in any part of the litigation between dioceses and the national Church. He denied that a diocese could leave the Church. As for bishops: "Diocesan bishops are at all times subject to and bound by the Church's Constitution and Canons and Book of Common Prayer." Black ordered all rights and properties in question to be handed over to the Episcopal Church. In May of 2014 the Episcopal and Anglican bishops met to discuss a settlement but nothing came of it. The Anglican diocese appealed Judge Black's decision to the California Fifth Court of Appeals in April of 2015 claiming that Black did not follow neutral principles. Meanwhile the Anglican side continued holding the rights and properties. The appeal that the Anglican side made to the Fifth in April, 2015, is the matter before the court next week.

Apart from the diocesan litigation, numerous local churches have been the subject of court actions. One by one these have been settled on the side of the Episcopal diocese. The most notable of these was a Kern County court decision in 2013 to return the property of St. Paul's Church, Bakersfield, to the Episcopal bishop. In July of 2013, the Episcopalians made a triumphal reentry and festival celebration in St. Paul's. The Anglican congregation, that had been occupying the property since the schism of December 2007, left, and is now meeting as Trinity Anglican Church, in St. John's Lutheran Church, on Buena Vista in Bakersfield. On Dec. 3, 2014, Mark Lawrence ordained his son Joseph there.

Mark Lawrence was rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church of Bakersfield from 1997 to 2007 when he was elected and confirmed to be bishop of South Carolina. Lawrence had been a dean of the diocese of San Joaquin, and his parish was part of the schism movement. Lawrence wrote two public essays defending "dissociation" that became widely known before he was elected bishop of South Carolina. When he was being considered for bishop in 2006 and 2007, some pro-Church parties expressed their fear that Lawrence would lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church. They appealed to the bishops and standing committees not to give consent. There was widespread doubt in the Church about Lawrence's loyalty to the Episcopal Church. He failed to gain a majority of proper consent on the first election, then did win a majority of consents on his second election in 2007 allowing him to be consecrated bishop of South Carolina.

The California supreme court and local courts have been mostly favorable to the Episcopal Church in the various episodes of litigation there over the last many years. All signs point to an eventual decision in favor of the Episcopal diocese of San Joaquin.

The appeals court next week will have to review Judge Black's decision of May 2014 and decide whether his procedure and conclusions in the case were proper under the law. As we all know, the South Carolina supreme court, to a justice, had nothing good to say about Judge Goodstein's decision for its procedure and conclusions. It is not at all likely that this will happen in this matter in California.

The appeals court in California will probably deliver a written opinion on this appeal in the first half of June. Of course, that decision could be appealed to the California supreme court.

Odds are in California that the Episcopal Church will wind up with the rights and properties. No state in the union has been more favorable in court to the Episcopal Church.

Meanwhile, we await a decision of the South Carolina supreme court. March 23 will mark six months since the hearing. Six months is the average gap time between hearing and written opinion. Given the retirement of Chief Justice Toal (but still acting an interim justice) and the use of various temporary justices on the court, I suspect we will have to wait a few months longer for a decision.

For the Anglican take on the court hearing, see , "Bishop's Call to Prayer." 

2nd edition---(Mar. 10). The hearing was held yesterday, March 9, in front of three judges of the appeals court. The court's decision is expected within 90 days, that is, by June 9.