In a brief order filed today, the Supreme Court of South Carolina has granted the motion filed earlier by Bishop Lawrence, his diocesan trustees and individual parishes to transfer to it jurisdiction of the current appeals brought by ECUSA and its rump group in an attempt to delay the trial of the main action set for next July in front of Judge Goodstein.
The Supreme Court's action came just after ECUSA and its rump group had filed a petition for rehearing with the Court of Appeals, asking a full panel to overrule a single judge's earlier order dismissing that appeal, which seeks review of an order by Judge Goodstein denying the rump group access to attorney-client communications between Bishop Lawrence and his counsel, Alan Runyon.
The appeal raises the question of whether the rump group may be seen in law as the continuing successor to the Episcopal Diocese, or whether it is a new entity that began its legal life with a special convention in January 2013 -- regardless of whether ECUSA treats it for religious purposes as a continuing "diocese" in the Church. The rump group contends that they are the legal successor to the Diocese, and so are entitled to see prior communications between the Episcopal Diocese and its attorneys.
But the Episcopal Diocese is very much alive as a legal entity under South Carolina law, with its same Constitution and Canons (amended so as to remove any affiliations with ECUSA), as the rump group has found out in defeat after defeat these past fifteen months. The latter group has no coherent legal theory to explain how it could, as a tiny dissident minority, overrule the majority and assume control of the legal entity governed by the majority under South Carolina law, namely, the incorporated Episcopal Diocese.
Also, according to the press release from the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, "Judge Diane S. Goodstein, who will preside over the trial, today issued an announcement to counsel in the case that Court Administration has set the trial date for July 7-18, 2014 and she will not allow attorneys to have 'protection' from having to be in attendance at the trial during those dates." Thus the trial will go forward as currently scheduled.
ECUSA and its rump group will now have to take seriously the fact that their current position in the litigation is directly contrary to the holdings of the South Carolina Supreme Court in the All Saints Waccamaw case of 2009 (the decision in which was written by the current Chief Justice of the Court). They face an uphill battle in the trial court, because Judge Goodstein will follow the law as given by the Supreme Court, according to which (1) ECUSA's Dennis Canon did not automatically create any kind of enforceable trust interest in Episcopal parish property in the State, and (2) South Carolina religious corporations which follow the procedures in their own articles and bylaws may amend those documents in the absence of any restriction on their power to do so.
The only Court that can overturn the Waccamaw decision at this stage is the Court that handed it down. And since it now has jurisdiction of ECUSA's appeals of the discovery order, ECUSA's attorneys will find out soon enough the chances that their arguments will receive any favorable hearing in the South Carolina courts.