Monday, May 04, 2009

Episcopal Diocese targets parish and vestry members to recover legal fees

The litigation by the Diocese of Los Angeles against St. James Newport (California) is far from over, but the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is now suing St. James and its vestry members to recover their own legal fees used to sue St. James in the first place.
In a move an attorney for St. James Anglican Church called “threatening and bullying behavior,” the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles will try to recover attorneys fees and court costs from the church and some of its members who voted to break away from the Episcopal Church in 2004, resulting in a bitter legal battle over St. James’ Via Lido campus.

“They are doing this so no one ever dares leave the Episcopal hierarchy ever again,” said attorney Daniel Lula, who represents St. James.

Attorney John Shiner, who represents the diocese, said Friday that he didn’t know how much money his client would try to recover from St. James and individual members of its vestry, which functions like a board of directors.

“We’re doing nothing more than what we’re entitled to do legally,” Shiner said.

An Orange County Superior Court judge is slated to hear the matter May 15.

The fact that the diocese has not disclosed yet how much money it will seek from St. James and its members led Lula to speculate on Friday it will be “an obscene amount.”

“These are volunteers — it’s not like they’re the board of directors at General Electric. These are retired people, school teachers and stay-at home-moms,” Lula said.

Legal fees are bound to be high in the case, which involved a small army of attorneys.

The church property dispute went all the way to the California Supreme Court. In the case, the diocese claimed it had a right to keep St. James’ Newport Beach church after it left the Episcopal Church. The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the diocese in January.

St. James is considering taking the case to the United States Supreme Court — church leaders have until the end of May to file, Lula said.
Read it all here.

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