Superior Court of California grants summary adjudication to San Joaquin
The Rt. Rev. Edwin F. [Ted] Gulick, Jr., the Standing Committee, and the Board of Trustees of the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth welcome the July 21, 2009 decision of the Superior Court of California, County of Fresno, Central Division that grants a summary adjudication to the continuing Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin in its litigation regarding which leaders have authority over the diocese and its property.
This California decision joins other courts in Texas and other states in affirming the legal positions asserted by the continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, its Diocesan Corporation, and the Episcopal Church in litigation filed on April 21, 2009 in the 141st District Court in Fort Worth against former bishop Jack Iker and others who left the Episcopal Church but still claim the right to exercise authority on behalf of the diocese and to control diocesan property.
The 21-page decision confirms as a matter of law that:
- The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church as a matter of law;
- The legal analysis in other cases involving parishesattempting to leave The Episcopal Church apply to a case in which a diocese attempts to leave The Episcopal Church;
- Attempts by a diocese to amend its Constitution, canons, or corporate documents to (1) limit its unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, (2) purport to leave The Episcopal Church to join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, or (3) change the manner of determining who is the diocesan bishop are ultra vires (beyond its powers) and void;
- Civil courts must accept as binding and defer to decisions of The Episcopal Church to recognize the provisional bishop and other diocesan officials who were installed after the former diocesan officials left The Episcopal Church;
- The person who is recognized by the Episcopal Church as the bishop is the legal incumbent of the office of the bishop of the diocese, not a former bishop who left The Episcopal Church; and
- When members leave the Episcopal Church, the Church has a right to name their successors in diocesan offices.
Former leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin left the Episcopal Church in 2007 to affiliate with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone; former bishop Jack Iker and other leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth did so in 2008.
These conclusions apply to the Fort Worth dispute in that the continuing diocese seeks similar declarations that Bishop Ted Gulick, not Jack Iker, is legally recognized as the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth and as chairman of the board of the Diocesan Corporation and that other officers, not those who have left the Episcopal Church, have legal authority to act for the continuing diocese.
Bishop Gulick said, “The Episcopal Church in Fort Worth is gratified by the decision of the Superior Court of California, Fresno County, recognizing the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb and those clergy and laity loyal to the Episcopal Church in the United States as the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin. We feel that the norms of Episcopal Church reality and its hierarchical nature were accurately described in the court’s decision. They affirm the same arguments on which we base our own legal claims. Since this reality is made abundantly clear in the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, it is unfortunate that so much effort and financial resources were necessary to ratify what has been our church’s consistent understanding. Those of us defending the heritage of this part of the Episcopal Church in North Texas as well as its resources are greatly encouraged.”
This declaration is the first step for Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin in recovering the Episcopal Church property, including funds, to continue the numerous and varied ministries of the Episcopal Church in central California.
The plaintiffs in the California case are the Diocese of San Joaquin; the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb, in his capacity as the Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin; and the Episcopal Church. The defendants are “John Mercer Schofield, also known as John-Davis [sic] Schofield, an individual; The Episcopal Foundation of San Joaquin, Inc. an unknown entity; the Diocesan Investment Trust of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, a California corporation; The Anglican Diocese Holding Corporation; Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., a Delaware corporation (d/b/a Merrill Lynch); and DOES 1-300, inclusive.”
The next step is to account for and recover the church property to the control of authorized diocesan officials.