Thursday, April 21, 2016

with Addendum (20 Apr.) and
Second Addendum (21 Apr.)

Original post, 19 April:     The Texas Second Court of Appeals, in Fort Worth, is hearing the Episcopal Church case today, Tuesday, 19 April, at 1:30 p.m. To my knowledge, there is no audio or video streaming of today's hearing. The judges will be hearing arguments from the competing dioceses concerning the Episcopal Church's appeal of the "Final Judgment" of Judge John Chupp, of the 141st Judicial Court, of Tarrant County, Texas, dated July 24, 2015. The Judgment awarded everything in question to the breakaway diocese.

Of all five secessionist dioceses, Fort Worth has had the most curious history of litigation. Three of the five cases were completely one-sided, Pittsburgh and San Joaquin entirely in favor of the Episcopal Church while Quincy was the opposite, completely in favor of the secessionist diocese. Fort Worth, however, has been on both sides.

The original court judgment in Fort Worth awarded all to the Episcopal Church side. That was Judge Chupp's order of 21 January 2011. The breakaways then appealed that decision directly to the Texas Supreme Court which held oral arguments on 16 October 2012, and rendered a written decision on 30 August 2013. In a 5-4 split, the supreme court ruled that the case must be remanded to the Judicial Court with direction to follow "neutral principles." The minority of the court held that the case was not appealable to the state supreme court. The Church side then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2014 but that court refused to accept the case for judgment, perhaps because it had not been decided by the highest court in the state of Texas. The case then went back to the original judge, John Chupp, in the 141st who held a new hearing directed by the state supreme court order for neutral principles on 20 February 2015 and issued a terse written order on 2 March 2015 with a short "Final Order" on 24 July 2015. Chupp awarded all to the breakaway diocese, the exact opposite of his 2011 ruling. It is this "Final Order" that the Church side appealed to the Appeals Court and is being heard today.

There is plenty here for the appeals court judges to consider. The Church side is essentially arguing for hierarchy, that is with sovereignty in the central authority, while the secessionist side is arguing for local rights, that is, with sovereignty in the local entity.

On December 3, 2015, the Episcopal Church diocese and the Episcopal Church both filed briefs (written arguments) with the appeals court, 202 p. and 49 p. These may be found at: . The breakaway (also known as the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth) side then filed a response brief of 95 pages on 4 March 2016: .  

Since we cannot see or hear the hearing today, we can only hope for a detailed description from the two sides involved asap. I will pass these along as I receive them.

ADDENDUM, 20 April. The hearing was held yesterday in the Second Court of Appeals, in Fort Worth. Three judges heard the oral arguments: Anne Gardner, Lee Gabriel, and Bonnie Sudderth. The courtroom was packed to capacity for a hearing that lasted 39 minutes.

An audio recording is available at: . This also has a report from the Episcopal Church diocese.

The schismatic diocese also has a report on the hearing at: .


Having heard the audio of the hearing on 19 April, these are my thoughts:

The plaintiff (Episcopal Church diocese) lawyer spoke first. He argued basically that the Episcopal Church was hierarchical and that when the diocese was created (in 1983) it gave unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church with the force of an irrevocable contract. The diocese had no right to unilateral independence or to secession from TEC. In Fort Worth there were two entities: 1-the Corporation (incorporated under Texas law) that held title to the deeds and 2-the unincorporated diocese. The corporation held the property in trust for the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth which itself is part of the national Church. In sum, this property issue was really an ecclesiastical issue that must be left to the Church under the First Amendment.

The defendant (secessionist diocese) lawyer countered that the diocese was an independent entity free to amend its rules under state law. The Corporation was an independent entity under state law and governed by the diocesan convention. Courts must follow "neutral principles" and settle the property issues under state property laws.
A judge interrupted the defendants' lawyer to speak twice: 1-are not we getting into ecclesiastical issues (referring to the structure of the diocese)? and 2-the Texas Supreme Court did not make a decision in the case, only remanded to lower court with direction for neutral principles.

The Church lawyer then offered a rebuttal. He said only the Church, not the courts, may decide which is the rightful diocese. He also pointed out that the 55 property deeds state explicitly the property was held in trust for the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Ft. Worth. He asked the court to enforce the deeds.

The fundamental issue in Ft. Worth was the same as in South Carolina, sovereignty. The Church's position is that ultimate power rests in the national Church, specifically in the General Convention. All dioceses must recognize that. As for property, all local properties are held in trust for the Episcopal Church and its diocese. On the other hand, the secessionist side argued for local sovereignty, that the local diocese governed itself and existed as an independent legal entity under state corporate law, and that the national Church had no right over the local properties.

It is impossible at this point to predict how the Texas Second Appeals Court will rule. It is dealing with contradictory decisions from the same judge (John Chupp), the first giving all to the national Church side, the second giving all to the secessionist side, and a direction from the state supreme court that the case be heard under "neutral principles." (The appeal before the court is Chupp's second decision). A judge asked only two questions on Tuesday, both of which suggested reluctance to interfere in an ecclesiastical matter. As we have seen, neutral principles does not necessarily mean the secessionist side will win. In California, the court followed neutral principles and found all in favor of the national Church; and this was affirmed by the appeals court.