The perspectives offered on the litigation come from local clergy on the ground, and from two professors whom the reporter John Ellis contacted (Prof. Robert Tuttle, "a church-state expert at George Washington University Law School"; and Prof. Frank Kirkpatrick, who teaches religion at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and whose survey articles on Episcopal litigation I have cited in earlier posts). Apart from his biased terminology (he consistently calls Bishop Schofield's diocese a "rebel" diocese, when it is ECUSA that has rebelled against Scripture), Mr. Ellis did a good job of marshaling the different viewpoints, and of interweaving them with the arguments from the briefs on appeal. You should read the entire article to get the full benefit from the contrasts it contains.
However, Mr. Ellis is not a reporter on legal matters, and this blog is. While I can commend the article to you for its lay points of view, you should not form your opinion about the merits of the case before the Court of Appeal simply from reading the article, or from the quotes of the two professors. Instead, read the briefs themselves, for which the on-line version of the story helpfully provides links to downloadable .pdf versions -- the petition and opening brief filed by Bishop Schofield, seeking an writ from the Court of Appeal commanding Judge Corona to vacate (erase) his order; the return to the petition filed by the Episcopal Church (USA) and Bishop Lamb; and the petitioners' reply to that return. In addition, there are links to download the latest version (fourth amended) of the complaint in the case, and copies of Judge Corona's order granting judgment on the first cause of action in the complaint regarding title to the property, as well as of the Court of Appeal's order directing the Episcopal Church (USA) and Bishop Lamb to respond to Bishop Schofield's petition.
Thus you can now find, in one convenient place, all the documents you need to understand the issues before the Court of Appeal: the complaint (whose allegations in the first cause of action have remained unchanged since the original filing), the trial court's order, and the arguments pro and con concerning that order.
The first and most basic issue is very simple: may a diocese of ECUSA leave the church? As discussed in numerous posts on this blog, ECUSA is a voluntary, common-law association of independent dioceses, each with its own constitution and canons. ECUSA's own constitution requires that a diocese "accede" to it in order to join the association; it does so by (usually, but by no means always) including language of accession in its constitution.
So the first important sub-issue addressed by the briefs is this: what does the word "accede" in this context mean? For ECUSA, Bishop Lamb and Judge Corona, it meant to join irrevocably. As Judge Corona put it in his order (pp. 6, 9):
Currently, new dioceses must express "unqualified accession to the [ECUSA] Constitution and canons" before they can be in union with the general convention and admitted to the Episcopal Church. . . .. . .Defendants contend that there was no legal impediment to their 2006 amendment . . . deleting the accession clause entirely and withdrawing from the Episcopal Church. Defendants are incorrect. The original accession clause itself prevents such amendment. If the Constitution of the Diocese incorporates and accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, which require accession, then the Constitution of the Diocese cannot be amended to remove such language.
Bishop Schofield and the other defendants sued by Bishop Lamb and ECUSA explained what was wrong with this holding, at pp. 31-32 of their opening brief on appeal:
And here is ECUSA/Bishop Lamb's response to that argument (Real Parties brief, pp. 39-40):
The question for the Respondent Court therefore, pursuant to section 1644 of the Civil Code ("The words of a contract are to be understood in their ordinary and popular sense ... "), was: what is the "ordinary and popular sense" of the word "accede"? Here are the etymology and the definition of "accede", according to Merriam-Webster:
Etymology: Middle English, from Latin accedere to go to, be added, from ad- + cedere, to go
Date: 15th century
1 a: to become a party (as to an agreement) b: to express approval or give consent: give in to a request or demand . . .
By "acceding" to the national Constitution, therefore, the Diocese became a party to it, just as would take place in the case of a treaty. And indeed, "accede" is the word commonly used to signify a party's consent to join in a treaty among (or between) autonomous entities. (E.g., Terlinden v. Ames  184 U.S. 270, 276; Avero Belgium Ins. v. American Airlines, Inc., supra, 423 F.3d 73, 79, n.7 ['''Accession' is 'the act whereby a State accepts the offer or the opportunity of becoming a party to a treaty already signed by some other States'"].)
The court's conclusion represents the best and most sensible reading of the (undisputed) documents considered in the light of the Church's structure. Since the Church is hierarchical, its dioceses are subordinate by definition to the governance of the larger Church. Each diocese's promise to accede to the Church's governance, therefore, merely reflects the hierarchical nature of the Church. . .It would be nonsensical to suggest that the Church requires accession for the instant that diocesan status is granted, and then permits a new diocese to abandon, in the next instant, that accession - whether by openly revoking its accession promise or by otherwise contravening the Church's governance. Indeed, it is undisputed that the Church has mechanisms for disciplining those in the Church who contravene its governance: Its canons provide for the discipline of bishops and other clergy who "abandon the communion" of the Church or who violate the Constitution or canons of the Church, and require any person accepting an office in the Church to "perform the duties of that office in accordance with the Constitution and canons" of the Church. . . . In this way, the Church ensures that its subordinate entities continually accede to the Church's governance.
To which Bishop Schofield and his attorneys replied as follows (Reply Brief, p. 18):
"Accession" is a term that usually applies to sovereigns or autonomous entities, and not to subordinates. (See Pet., at 31-32.) Real Parties [Bishop Lamb and ECUSA] have not offered a different definition; instead they have misconstrued recent decisions as discussed above. Use of the term "accedes to" in the national Church's Constitution is thus consistent with the principles of association law that membership is revocable and that a member may withdraw at any time. The unrestricted and unqualified nature of the Diocesan Constitution's power to amend is likewise fully consistent with the conclusion that the Diocese is an autonomous entity; only an entity responsible legally to no one but itself would have an unlimited and unrestricted right to amend its constitution. The term "accedes to," then, does not mean "become forever subordinate to." For a diocese to join the association known as the Episcopal Church, it must "accede" (agree to abide by) the national Constitution, just as any member on joining an association agrees to abide by its governing instrument. So long as the member continues to so agree, he remains a member. And when he decides to leave, he no longer abides by it - he no longer "accedes" to it. The Church's Constitution makes the act of accession a condition only of joining; after a Diocese has joined, General Convention does not regulate or supervise further changes to its governing documents in any way.
And with regard to whether an accession once made could be treated as being irrevocable, the Petitioners replied (ibid., p. 19):
Nor can a promise to "accede" be interpreted as calling for perpetual accession (performance). In Nissen v. Stovall-Wilcoxson Co. (1953) 120 Cal.App.2d 316, 319, the court said: "It is not often that a promise will be properly interpreted as calling for perpetual performance. (Williston and Thompson on Contracts, § 38.) 'A construction conferring a right in perpetuity will be avoided unless compelled by the unequivocal language of the contract.' (17 C.J.S. "Contracts", § 398.) 'A contract will be construed to impose an obligation in perpetuity only "when the language of the agreement compels that construction.'" [Citation omitted.]" (See Cooper Companies, Inc. v. Transcontinental Ins. Co. (1995) 31 Cal.App.4th 1094, 1103 [" ... construing a contract to confer a right in perpetuity is clearly disfavored."]. )
In sum, to apply the rules of contract interpretation together with the law of associations permits of only one legal conclusion: nothing in the Diocese's Constitution limits its right to amend any of its provisions, including the accession clause.
Who has the better argument? (See also this earlier post on the same topic.) At least until the Fifth District Court of Appeal speaks, you may be the judge. (No date has been set yet for oral arguments; conceivably, the Court could even issue its decision without holding an argument, if it found that the latter unnecessary. Stay tuned.)
By a similar process of juxtaposition, it is now possible, thanks to the servers at the Fresno Bee, to evaluate the strengths and weakness of each of the arguments and responses made in the writ proceedings. As time permits, in coming posts I will present more of the arguments and responses in this fashion.