[UPDATE 05/20/2011: After being continued to May 19 (see below), the hearing held yesterday still did not result in a final order setting the amount of the bond. A press release from Bishop Iker's diocese describes what happened:
Efforts by local Episcopal Church parties were frustrated at several points during today's court hearing, which once again failed to resolve the question of the amount of a supersedeas bond.
Early in the hearing the Hon. John Chupp announced his decision to deny the TEC group's motion to strike four affidavits submitted in support of the Diocese for a $0 bond. With those affidavits remaining in evidence, counsel for the Diocese argued that there are no funds available for a bond, since the court's judgment earlier this year awarded all property in the diocesan Corporation to the local TEC minority.
The only fund available to the Diocese is assessment income for normal operating expenses, and existing law forbids a trial court from setting a supersedeas bond that interferes with the ordinary course of business.
Attorneys for the Episcopal minority group called a forensic accountant as expert witness, but, after cross examination by diocesan counsel and the judge, the witness, who was familiar with bank lending practices, agreed that he was not versed in the peculiarities of supersedeas bonds. He also agreed that the Diocese has no collateral. “How can they get a bond [without collateral]?” the judge asked.
Several times Judge Chupp decried the increasing litigation cost in the case, citing as one example the $24,000 which the forensic accountant confirmed he had charged the plaintiffs for his services.
About 80 minutes after the hearing began, Judge Chupp asked both teams of lawyers to confer together and try to reach an agreement, if they could, on the amount of the bond and related requests for information.
“I'm not negotiating; y'all figure it out,” he said, suggesting that the bond might be set at zero if other terms were agreed on.
When the hearing reconvened about 40 minutes later, attorneys for both sides agreed to work out a proposal and submit it to the court within two weeks. Each side also left a draft order with the judge; If there is no resolution within two weeks, he will sign one of the orders so that the case can proceed. It is anticipated that all this can be done without the necessity of another hearing in the matter.
I find it ironic, to say the least, that the local Episcopalians' take-no-prisoners strategy backfired on them -- the diocese cannot post a money bond, because the ersatz diocese has claimed all its assets, which cannot be touched pending the appeal! The judge was right to make the attorneys work it out under pressure of setting the bond at zero. It is time to stop all the posturing and maneuvering, and get on with the appeal.]
A hearing will take place tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. in front of Judge John Chupp, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth has announced:
At 2 p.m. tomorrow, April 28, Judge John Chupp will determine to what extent he will permit the local minority group aligned with TEC to conduct discovery with regard to the Motion to Set Supersedeas Bond* that has been filed by our attorneys. We are asking Judge Chupp to permit the Diocese and our 48 congregations to continue to have possession of the property while the case is being appealed, without the necessity of posting a large bond. The local minority group wants to take depositions and conduct other discovery, including inspections of the property, ostensibly for the purpose of developing evidence to support their argument that a substantial bond should be required as a condition for the continued possession of the property by the Diocese and its congregations during the appeal.
According to David Weaver, who is representing our congregations, "Since the plaintiffs likely will not prevail on the bond issue, they are attempting a flanking maneuver by seeking permission from the Court to allow them to engage in expensive discovery procedures."
Please keep the hearing in your prayers, and, if possible, plan to attend. The 141st District Court is located on the fourth floor of the Family Law Center on Weatherford Street in Fort Worth.
*A supersedeas bond is a deposit made during an appeal process when the case involves property and the party making the appeal wishes to delay full payment until the process concludes.
[UPDATE 04/28/2011: See Carolyn's second comment below -- thanks for the report, Carolyn!]
The group led by Bishop Ohl has tried every maneuver in the book to push up the costs for Bishop Iker and his diocese. They are not interested in getting the case decided by the Texas Supreme Court as quickly as possible; they want to drag out the proceedings below by having court-ordered "inspections" of each individual church property, and depositions of church rectors and treasurers. Then they want to use any financial information so gathered as a means to argue that Bishop Iker's diocese should have to post a huge bond pending the appeal.
Bishop Iker and his diocese are not going anywhere. Nor are they engaged in running down their properties, or in selling off the altar cloths, or in recycling hymnals and prayer books. Were Bishop Ohl and his group to take over all the properties from this day forward, they would not be able to keep all of them staffed and maintained -- they would immediately have to offer a lot of them for sale, in a difficult market. They are far better off getting the free services of the properties' current occupants to keep them well-run and maintained while the appeal runs its course. Thus it is cynical at best, and harassment at worst, to request that the court drive up the costs of the defendants still more.
One can hope that Judge Chupp is beginning, through all of this extraneous maneuvering, to get the flavor, as we say, of those to whom he awarded the property -- and of where their hearts really lie.