Monday, October 15, 2012

Oral Arguments Tomorrow in Texas and Virginia

On October 16, beginning at 9 a.m. Central (Daylight) Time, the Texas Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in two Episcopal church property cases: first (starting at 9:00) will be The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, et al. v. The Episcopal Church, et al., Case No. 11-0265. You can find downloadable versions of all the briefs (including amici briefs) at this link. The Court's official summary of what is at stake in the case is as follows:
The principal issue in this case is essentially the same ownership question as that in 11-0332, Robert Masterson, et al. v. Diocese of Northwest Texas, et al., set to be argued the same day: whether in Texas the a diocese seeking to leave the U.S. Episcopal Church or the larger Episcopal governing entity owns the church property in the diocese and whether ownership should be decided by "neutral principles" using established trust and property law and taking account of deeds, the governing language employed by a local church and the larger denomination, or by "compulsory deference", determining where church members place ultimate authority over property use.
The other case, referred to in the summary of the Fort Worth case just given, is Robert Masterson, et al. v. Diocese of Northwest Texas, et al., Case No. 11-0332 (briefs may be downloaded here). Arguments in Masterson will immediately follow the Ft. Worth arguments, beginning at 9:50 a.m. Here is the Court's summary of that case:
The principal issues in this property dispute between the diocese and a breakaway congregation are (1) whether in Texas the dispute should be decided by “neutral principles” – using established trust and property law and taking account of deeds, the governing language employed by a local church and the larger denomination – or by “compulsory deference” – determining where church members place ultimate authority over property use and (2) whether the trial court erred by deciding the diocese owns the property.
To watch the oral arguments tomorrow, go to this page and click on the respective case names when they are highlighted in blue.

As described earlier in this post, the Virginia Supreme Court will also hear oral argument tomorrow from just the attorneys for The Falls Church on why it should agree to review the decision of Judge Randy Bellows. There is no online video for court sessions, but the public is welcome to attend and listen to the brief (ten-minute) argument (The Falls Church case is No. 32 on the list of cases to be heard tomorrow), which is scheduled for 1:00 p.m.


  1. I couldn't find the exact answer to this online, though the FAQs mention a "public gallery"-- are the oral arguments in Ft. Worth something that the public can attend?

  2. I'm almost certain that the public can attend oral argument sessions, Matthew -- but perhaps one of our Texas readers could give you more specifics.

  3. My earlier comment appears not to have made it. I probably botched the "prove you're not a robot" test.

    I attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court of Virginia this afternoon. The Falls Church Anglican's petition was first on the docket in the main courtroom, and they actually began a few minutes early, presumably to facilitate reshuffling of panels due to recusals.

    The panel hearing the petition consisted of Chief Justice Kinser, Justice Millette, and Justice Powell.

    Steffen Johnson, who argued on behalf of the CANA congregations in the prior appeal, presented 10 minutes of oral argument. No questions were asked. At the end of his argument, Chief Justice Kinser said, "I believe we understand your position," and called a brief recess.

    Counsel for the Diocese of Virginia were present; not sure about counsel for TEC.

    In terms of what happens next, I'll quote one of Virginia's leading appellate lawyers, who notes:

    "Unless you work in downtown Richmond, the writ panel will probably decide whether to grant your petition before you get back to your office on the day of argument. The justices confer the same day and decide which petitions they’ll grant and which they’ll refuse. The ensuing delay between the argument date and the date on which the decision arrives in your inbox is a function of the time it takes to process the paperwork, combined with dumb luck. I usually tell lawyers to expect a decision somewhere between three days and four weeks after the argument."

  4. Thank you so much, Jeff H, for that valuable first-person report. I hope to have a post up on the arguments in Texas by tomorrow.

  5. I may be wrong, but the Court's summary in the Fort Worth case seemed to be worded rather unfavorably to the diocese: i.e., by stating that the diocese was one "seeking to leave" TEC. If a diocese under the constitutional structure of TEC is actually the basic structural component in TEC's governance, and especially since the diocese the court is talking about technically (i.e., legally) remains in TEC because remains in TEC because TEC hasn't handled the whole issue of dealing with the diocese in a manner comporting with TEC's constitutional and canonical requirements, mightn't the wording of the summary be potentially troubling for the court down the line?