New filings in Tarrant County District Court; Hood County case abated
Two significant actions have occurred in the litigation in which the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth is involved.
First, on August 13 and August 27, 2010, several amended pleadings were filed in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, in part to comply with the June 25, 2010 Court of Appeals decision.
Second, on September 2, 2010, Judge Ralph H. Walton, Jr., judge of the 355th District Court of Hood County, granted the Episcopal parties’ second motion to abate [stop] the case in favor of the earlier-filed Tarrant County Case. This ruling means all the issues about diocesan authority and church property will be dealt with in a single courtroom and with a single judge—the 141st District Court and Judge John P. Chupp—instead of being split between two different counties and two different courts.
Diocesan Case in Tarrant County
On August 13, 2010 The Episcopal Church, Bishop Ohl and other diocesan officers on the Standing Committee, board of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and board of the Fund for the Endowment of the Episcopacy filed the following amended pleading in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County:
- PLAINTIFFS’ SECOND AMENDED ORIGINAL PETITION AND THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS’ COUNTERCLAIM. (view article) (view court petition)
On August 27, 2010 Bishop Ohl and other diocesan officers on the Standing Committee, board of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, and board of the Fund for the Endowment of the Episcopacy filed the following amended pleadings in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County:
- PLAINTIFFS’ THIRD AMENDED ORIGINAL PETITION (view);
- AMENDED ANSWER TO SOUTHERN CONE CORPORATION’S PLEA IN INTERVENTION AND THIRD-PARTY PETITION AND COUNTERCLAIMS (view);
- AMENDED ANSWER AND COUNTERCLAIMS TO SOUTHERN CONE DIOCESE’S THIRD-PARTY PETITION (view); and
- AMENDED ANSWER TO INTERVENING CONGREGATIONS’ PLEA IN INTERVENTION AND COUNTERCLAIM AGAINST INTERVENING CONGREGATIONS (view).
The filings reassert the diocesan claims initially made in the April 14, 2009 filing of the lawsuit in the 141st District Court, seeking a declaration that the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth under Bishop Ohl, and not the former Episcopalians who left the Church in 2008, is entitled to the use and benefit of property acquired by and for the mission of the Episcopal Church in this area since 1838.
The new pleadings also assert additional causes of action and more detailed defenses against the claims brought by the Southern Cone parties, including some 47 putative Southern Cone congregations, who have sued the Episcopal diocesan officers.
“St. Andrew’s” Case in Hood County
After an extended hearing on Thursday, September 2, 2010, Judge Ralph H. Walton, Jr., judge of the 355th District Court of Hood County, granted the Episcopal parties’ second motion to abate the case in favor of the earlier-filed Tarrant County Case. The Southern Cone “St. Andrew’s Church,” along with other putative Southern Cone congregations, had intervened in the Tarrant County Case in November 2009. The 141st District Court in Fort Worth now has before it all of the property and other issues involving the former Episcopalians who, with former Bishop Iker, left the Episcopal Church but who still have physical possession of the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church building, including the issue of who is the beneficiary of the Cynthia Brants Charitable Remainder Unitrust created in 2002.
Pending judicial resolution of the church property dispute, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, formed as a parish of The Episcopal Church in 1875, continues to worship at Trinity Episcopal Church, 3401 Bellaire Dr. South, Fort Worth, at 5:00 p.m. on Sundays with Bishop Ohl, using the services of Evening Prayer and Holy Communion from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.