Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Fairfax Times: Church property case gears up for state Supreme Court

From here:
A two-year-old church property dispute between Episcopalians and Anglicans appears to be on its way to the Virginia Supreme Court.

On Feb. 3, The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia together filed an appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court hoping to overturn a Dec. 19 decision by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows in favor of the Anglican District of Virginia, known as ADV.

On Feb. 10, the Episcopal appeal was followed by a motion asking for an exception to the Supreme Court's limit of 35 pages in appeal cases.

The property dispute originally arose as a result of 11 churches that decided to break off from the Episcopal Church after they determined that church leadership was not following a proper reading of Scripture, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.

Among the area congregations now aligned with the ADV are Christ the Redeemer in Centreville, Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, Church of Our Saviour in Oatlands, Potomac Falls in Sterling, Truro in Fairfax City and The Falls Church.

"Defending our heritage and securing our future is expensive. We have spent so far nearly 2 million dollars on litigation costs as a defendant," Episcopal Bishop Peter James Lee recently told Episcopal leaders at a gathering in Reston. Regardless of the case's outcome, Lee announced that he will soon retire and step down as bishop.

Jim Oakes, ADV vice chairman said, “We are saddened that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese find it necessary to continue with more litigation. An appeal process will cost additional millions of dollars that could be spent on mission and ministry. Both sides have already spent some $5 million in legal costs, money that could have gone to our communities in need during these tough economic times."
Read it all here.

11 comments:

Steven in Falls Church said...

BB--Are the ADV congregations opposing the motion to extend the page limit? Given the dilatory and workload-metastasizing shenanigans the Diocese and TEC lawyers were pulling at the trial court, I would hope that the ADV parishes would oppose this request.

TLF+ said...

Bp. Lee's still claiming to be a "defendant"? I don't know VA law, but is that even civil court language? And he gets a form of "defend" into the same paragraph twice, unchallenged.

I take back some earlier sympathy that I posted for the guy.

BabyBlue said...

Steven, well, the Diocese and TEC lawyers motion has not gone unnoticed. Prior to this, the Diocese and TEC lawyers attempted to break the case apart and appeal against each church separately! This latest motion is more of their maneuvering for position. It doesn't seem exactly fair, does it, that the churches are happily consolidated together while TEC and the Diocese seem to want to operate separately? They want more pages because they want to file briefs twice. How will the Supreme Court feel about that? If they get to file twice as many pages, does that mean that the churches get to file ten different briefs as well?

Or do we just stick with the rules?

TLF, the Diocese of Virginia presents the petitions that were filed following the voting by the parishes to separate from the Diocese like lawsuits. Sadly, this is contrary to what they agreed to in the Standstill Agreement with the parishes following the votes where they agreed that the filing of those votes - the petitions - were not hostile. When they publicly make their case, as they did at the recent diocesan council, they are careful not to mention the Standstill Agreement. Their position is that they are defending themselves against the thousands of people who voted to depart under 57-9.

The actual lawsuits were filed by both the Diocese of Virginia and the Presiding Bishop against rectors and vestries and trustees of the voting parishes, but those are now moot if Judge Bellows' ruling stands. You can see they have a lot at stake here. I still pray and wish they would return to the negotiating table, which is why the Standstill was agreed to in the first place.

bb

redleg82 said...

I am not an appellate lawyer but I don't think DioVA/TEC can "retry" the case at the SC-level. I think they have to prove that Judge Bellows decisions themselves were in error (57-9, property laws, or his interpretation of the 1st Amendment). I believe Judge Bellows spent a great deal of time "finalizing" his December decision.

BabyBlue said...

Yes, I agree. However, one can perhaps "retry" the case politically if not directly in the court. The case moves from Northern Virginia to the Diocesan-stronghold of Richmond. We assume that decisions are based on the law (and we pray for that with this case), but our experiences of watching how TEC is conducting their litigation strategy is to attempt to reframe the meaning of words and slyly reimagine their context. In fact, this philosophy is what led to the separation in the first place, only now the Episcopal Church is attempting to do to the law what it's all ready done to theology. It's the same strategy - Judge Bellows didn't buy it. Now they rest their hopes that the judges in Richmond will buy their revisionist strategy.

All ready they seek to overturn the court's regulations on page limits - they haven't even shown up yet and they are trying to rewrite the rules of what has been all along a consolidated case. TEC and the Diocese even filed separate appeals, though the case is still consolidated. Do they think we're asleep?

bb

Grandpa Dino said...

"the Episcopal appeal was followed by a motion asking for an exception to the Supreme Court's limit of 35 pages in appeal cases."

Why not? Rules are only meant for the other guys, not ECUSA.

Anonymous said...

So, TEC is behaving like a bunch of lawyers? hmmmmmm

redleg82 said...

I will continue to believe, naively perhaps, that ultimately property belongs to those that paid for it and hold legal title. How can any entity, without any legal standing in property matters, vote themselves ownership of that which that they do not own and have not sweated for and maintained. I don't think that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution was created to let religious organizations run roughshod over their membership. It seems to me that America fought a Revolution over less than that principle and who would understand this more than a real Virginian!

BabyBlue said...

As we know, redleg82, Thomas Jefferson was quite concerned about the power of the Episcopal Church in Virginia to bully the Baptists and Presbyterians. In the end, the Established Church - the Episcopal Church - was disestablished precisely because of these fears (known only too well in England, which of course precipitated the war in the first place) that we now see in fruition in this current litigation. Is it not an irony that the Bishop of Virginia calls those who voted to remain in the diocese "loyalists?" That should send chills down every Virginian spine.

Again, the Bishop of Virginia knew that we were going to vote to separate but it may indeed be possible that he never dreamed we really would do it. The process was not made easy. Once it became clear that he was facing a massive exodus from his diocese, he turned to the new Presiding Bishop and began to completely change his course from negotiation to litigation. Exactly as Jefferson had once feared.

bb

DavidH said...

"Prior to this, the Diocese and TEC lawyers attempted to break the case apart and appeal against each church separately!"

Take an inaccurate characterization and add a dash of pure speculation and what do you have? A bb post.

"It doesn't seem exactly fair, does it, that the churches are happily consolidated together while TEC and the Diocese seem to want to operate separately?"

The congregations are not "consolidated," and certain congregations have in the past submitted separate briefs when they thought they needed to. This is no different.

"They want more pages because they want to file briefs twice. How will the Supreme Court feel about that?"

Again, inaccurate.

"If they get to file twice as many pages, does that mean that the churches get to file ten different briefs as well? Or do we just stick with the rules?"

Yes, and yes. Every litigant has the right to appeal on his own. Every opposing party has the right to oppose on its own. No one is breaking any rules here. In fact, a calm request far in advance shows respect for the rules.

"Sadly, this is contrary to what they agreed to in the Standstill Agreement with the parishes following the votes where they agreed that the filing of those votes - the petitions - were not hostile."

Wrong. The Standstill Agreement said that filing the petitions would not be a violation of the Standstill Agreement. It said nothing about whether that was "hostile." And, as you constantly fail to grasp, there would have been no need for an exception if the petitions weren't litigation to begin with.

"When they publicly make their case, as they did at the recent diocesan council, they are careful not to mention the Standstill Agreement."

Because it's irrelevant.

"Their position is that they are defending themselves against the thousands of people who voted to depart under 57-9."

bb, who does Judge Bellows refer to as the plaintiff and defendant in the 57-9 cases?

"The actual lawsuits"

Yes, unlike those fake lawsuits filed by the CANA congregations.

"against rectors and vestries and trustees of the voting parishes"

Who were then voluntarily dismissed after they agreed to abide by court rulings.

"our experiences of watching how TEC is conducting their litigation strategy is to attempt to reframe the meaning of words and slyly reimagine their context."

Neither side is revisionist. You have a 150 year old unexplained, ambiguous statute, and people disagree over what it means.

"Do they think we're asleep?"

No, they think you're your usual delusional self.

DavidH said...

That last line was overly harsh. Sorry.