SANTA ANA, Calif. – May 15, 2009 – Orange County Superior Court Judge Thierry P. Colaw today denied a motion by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles which would have forced St. James Church and its volunteer board of directors to pay the Diocese’s attorneys’ fees in this ongoing property dispute.
The case began when St. James Church disaffiliated from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the Episcopal Church over theological differences in August 2004. The Diocese then sued St. James Church, All Saints Church in Long Beach, and St. David’s Church in North Hollywood, and each of their volunteer board members in September 2004. Subsequently, the national Episcopal Church intervened in the lawsuit with its own claims. The three local churches brought special motions to strike the Diocese’s suit under a unique California statute providing for early evaluation of cases involving free speech rights.
The Superior Court initially granted St. James Church’s motion, but the case made its way to the California Supreme Court, which reversed and reinstated the Diocese’s suit. St. James Church recently announced that it will file a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court to seek further appellate review. Even as St. James Church prepares its bid to the United States Supreme Court, the case continues to proceed in the Superior Court.
Today’s motion was a heavy-handed attempt by the Diocese, which has engaged in “scorched earth” litigation tactics against St. James Church for years, to recoup its attorneys’ fees. The Diocese claimed that St. James Church’s earlier special motion to strike was “frivolous” and warranted the sanction of a fees award.
The Superior Court considered briefs filed by both sides and heard oral argument. While the special motion procedure had never before been used in a church property dispute, the Court ruled that it was not frivolous, and had been brought in good faith by experienced and well-qualified defense counsel. As a result, the Court denied the Diocese’s motion for attorneys’ fees and set the case for a further status conference in September.
St. James Church continues to hold services and to operate in its property at 3209 Via Lido in Newport Beach, and remains committed to spreading the Gospel and the traditional Faith.
For more information about the court case click here.