Saturday, October 10, 2020






Justice John Cannon Few is one of the five justices of the South Carolina Supreme Court. Presumably, four of the five will consider the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina's appeal of Judge Edgar Dickson's order of June 19, 2020. Dickson's order declared that the 29 parishes in question and Camp St. Christopher were not owned by the Episcopal Church and its diocese, thus purporting to reverse the South Carolina Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017 that had ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church. 

One of the five justices of the SCSC, Justice Kaye Hearn, a communicant of a parish on one side of the litigation, has recused herself from the case. As I understand it, if there are four justices to decide the appeal, a majority denying the appeal or a (2-2) tie would uphold Judge Dickson's order. The Episcopal side would have to get three or four justices to agree to reverse Dickson and uphold the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017. This puts greater importance on each of the four votes.

As everyone knows, I am not a lawyer or a legal expert, but, as a layman observing this case closely for a long time I do have a couple of questions arising from Justice Few's publicly-known interactions with the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. What I offer here is opinion. 

On October 12, 2019, Few married Stephanie Leonard Yarbrough in St. Philip's Church, Charleston, in a service conducted by a clergyman of St. Philip's, the Rev. Brian McGreevy. Find the New York Times announcement of this here . The clergy and laity of St. Philip's are currently part of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. Mark Lawrence is the bishop of this diocese. Few was a justice of the SCSC at this time (joined SCSC in 2016). He was not one of the five justices who participated in the Aug. 2, 2017 decision.

Few and Yarbrough were both divorced from first marriages. In order for divorced persons to marry in the ADSC, they must get prior consent of the diocesan bishop (Lawrence). The diocese has a form online for this. Find it here . The form is long and detailed and must be completed by the officiating clergyperson. The couple may remarry in a ADSC church only on permission of the bishop of the ADSC. This raises a question of the relationship between Few and Lawrence before the remarriage. It also raises the question of Few's relationship with a parish on one side of the case. Although we do not know, apparently the bride was a member of St. Philip's. Was Few a member too? Does he, or did he, attend services at St. Philip's? I wonder also about the relationship between Few and the Rev. McGreevy, who would have been the clergyperson submitting the application for the remarriage. The questions on the application would have required a good deal of communication between the applicant party(ies) and the clergyman. If Justice Hearn has recused herself from the case because of her membership in a parish of one of the parties of the case, should not the same standard of connection to one side of the case be applied to the other four justices, if evidence warrants?

Another question is the relationship between Stephanie Few and legal representation of Bishop Lawrence and the ADSC. On its website, she is listed as a "partner" in the law firm of Womble Bond Dickinson, of Charleston. Find the WBD lawyers here . Two attorneys connected to that firm have been involved, significantly, in the litigation on the Anglican side. Attorney William Foster Gaillard was a lawyer for Bishop Lawrence and also for St. Philip's as per the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017. Another attorney of WBD, Henry E. Grimball, represented St. Michael's Church, or at least his name is listed as such on the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017. Of course, this does not mean Mrs. Few has had anything to do with the litigation that has gone on between the two dioceses. Even if she had represented the Anglican side, which apparently she did not, we would have to have an expert on the ethical standards of the legal system in SC to tell us how this might impact on Justice Few's role, if at all, in a new SCSC decision on the church case.

The point is, Justice Few, presumably one of the four SCSC justices now reviewing the church case, has had some interaction with one of the sides in the case before him. We do not know the extent of the relationship. Whether this has any bearing on the case, I do not know. However, since recusal resulting from relationships with one side of the case is already an established principle in this case, the other justices of the SCSC as well as the lawyers and legal experts might explore the nature and the extent of the interactions between Justice Few and one side of the case now before the SCSC. To be clear, I am not making any accusation or charge of misconduct in this matter, but I am suggesting there are questions that should be answered in the interest of equal treatment of both sides in this long and unfortunate litigation.