Judge Hamilton of the Fresno County Superior Court heard oral arguments by the attorneys for ECUSA and the rump Diocese of San Joaquin late yesterday afternoon, after finishing with a day of testimony in a criminal trial. The attorneys did their best to convince him that his tentative ruling had got it all wrong, and the that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision in Schofield v. Superior Court had really left him with nothing else to do but enter final judgment in their favor. (In the post just linked, I analyzed that contention and showed why it is just plain wrong -- but that never stopped an ECUSA attorney from arguing for it.)
Rusty vanRozeboom, the Chancellor for the Anglican Diocese, gave a brief response, after which ECUSA's attorney repeated his same points in rebuttal. The Judge asked no questions, but just sat patiently and listed to the exchange among the attorneys. Then he took the case under submission, which means he will issue a final ruling sometime within the next 90 days. He could simply affirm his tentative ruling (into which he obviously put a lot of work), in which case the order could be issued in the next few days. Or he could modify, or rewrite entirely, his earlier decision, in which case the final decision would probably not appear for a couple of months.
We shall see what the future brings. Meanwhile, at the parish level, some of the incorporated congregations in the Anglican Diocese, each of whom the rump diocese and ECUSA have sued separately, are tiring of all the dragged-out proceedings in court, and are deciding to give up their buildings and move out. A Superior Court judge in Kern County recently granted the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on the nonsensical grounds that it was required, under "neutral principles of law," to defer to the "ecclesiastical determinations" of the Episcopal Church (USA).
The judgment would most likely be overturned by the same Court that reversed the earlier and similar summary judgment in the Fresno case, but that would mean another two to three years of litigation and thousands and thousands of dollars in costs. And that is why I tell my clients that litigation is the ultimate last resort: it is long and taxing, very costly, and offers no certain outcome. We can fight the good fight as long as there is the will to sustain us, but all can easily understand a decision to cut one's losses and move on with the mission of bringing souls to Our Savior Jesus Christ.
I will announce Judge Hamilton's final ruling once it is issued. Meanwhile, please pray for the good folk in San Joaquin.