Friday, September 24, 2010

Virginia Case Goes Back to Trial Court; San Joaquin Case Set for Argument Oct. 20

In a one-page order entered today, the Virginia Supreme Court denied the CANA/ADV congregations' petition for a rehearing or clarification, without comment. This sends the case back to Judge Randy Bellows' court in Fairfax County, for further proceedings based on a "neutral principles" analysis of deeds, charters, and diocesan and national canons. For the reasons I gave in this earlier analysis, the Supreme Court's refusal to rethink its reading of the Division Statute essentially throws out the window the weeks of hearings devoted to its applicability and constitutionality, and the millions of dollars spent by both sides in arguing over its validity and application to the facts of the case. Until another Supreme Court revisits the issue, the Division Statute is all but dead for any but purely congregational churches, which by definition divide into two "branches" when they split. (The same was true here with regard to the formation of the ADV out of the Diocese of Virginia, but the Court simply was not interested in hearing those facts.)

The parties have already had a foretaste of what will happen now, when the case resumes before Judge Bellows. Just before issuing a final judgment in the case, he held a mini-trial on the issue of whether a two-acre parcel that had originally been given to the vestry of Truro Church went to the vestry of The Falls Church as Truro's legal successor, or whether it had reverted to the Diocese, which during the pending proceedings had quit-claimed it to Christ Church Alexandria. (His letter opinion deciding this issue may be downloaded from this link.) Resolution of this issue (in favor of The Falls Church) required Judge Bellows to go through the same kind of neutral principles analysis as he will now conduct with regard to the rest of the parishes' properties.

Look for lots more briefing, lots more experts testifying, and lots more being spent on attorneys' fees before this multidistrict litigation is finally resolved at the trial level. There will then undoubtedly be another attempt, by the side that loses, to appeal any final decision to the Supreme Court again (which does not have to accept the appeal). I would estimate that it will be another two to three years before there is any final outcome in Virginia.

In the Diocese of San Joaquin, the Fifth District Court of Appeal has notified the parties that oral argument on the writ from the trial court's grant of partial summary judgment will take place in its courtroom in Fresno on Wednesday, October 20, at 10:00 a.m. You may visit the links on the San Joaquin page for a full analysis of the issues that will be argued.

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