Today is the day that Senior Federal District Judge Houck hears oral arguments from counsel on the motion by Bishop Mark Lawrence, his Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and more than three dozen parishes to remand ("send back") the lawsuit they began last January to South Carolina's Circuit Court in Dorchester County. I reviewed the history of this increasingly complex litigation in this post, and will not repeat it here.
Essentially, what is at issue on the motion to remand is whether or not the Court can fairly read the Lawrence State court complaint to state a "claim or controversy" under the laws of the United States, so that the case could have been brought initially in the federal Court. One would think that a complaint based only upon State trademark law would be left to the State courts to decide, but ECUSA and its Potemkin diocese saw things differently. ECUSA has not done well in the South Carolina State courts, and so they wanted desperately to have the federal courts take jurisdiction of the dispute over who owns the rights to the name "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."
If the judge decides to keep the case in his court, then it will be consolidated with the federal lawsuit begun by Bishop vonRosenberg against Mark Lawrence personally, under the federal trademark law (called the "Lanham Act"). But if he does not -- if Judge Houck sends Bishop Lawrence's case back to State court, then look for him to stay the Lanham Act lawsuit until the State court resolves the trademark issues first (since that lawsuit was filed first).
I will report on the Judge's decision once he makes it. In the meantime, if any reader attends the hearing today, feel free to record your impressions of it in the comments. Also, those in South Carolina and elsewhere may find useful the prayer circulated today by the Very Rev. John Barr.
[UPDATE 06/05/2013: I am told that the hearing was brief, and was over in about forty minutes. Judge Houck was noncommittal, asked few questions, and mostly listened to the arguments. At the conclusion, he remarked that he had already been at work on the matter, and expected to get a decision on file "within a week."]