Saturday, February 21, 2015

Judge Chupp to Decide Ft. Worth Case

Yesterday morning the Hon. John Chupp, District Judge for the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, heard oral arguments in the case that the Texas Supreme Court last September remanded to him for trial. Both sides had filed motions for summary judgment, as there is scarcely any dispute over the facts. The disagreement instead is all about application of Texas law to those facts.

The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth (Bishop Iker’s Diocese) and the Diocesan Trustees are the defendants in the case. They issued a press release describing the course of the oral arguments:
Oral arguments on each side’s motion for partial summary judgement were heard this morning in a two-hour hearing before the Hon. John Chupp, and a ruling is expected from him soon. The judge asked for each side to submit proposed orders to him on Monday, Feb. 23. He will likely select one of them to sign, subject to any alterations he may wish to make.
In the course of the hearing before several dozen clergy and lay people, Judge Chupp asked each side, “What are you asking me for today?” The Plaintiffs argued for a “simple solution” acknowledging that the property is held in trust for the Diocese and Congregations by those individuals recognized by The Episcopal Church.

The Diocese and Corporation countered that, under neutral principles of law as mandated for the trial court to follow, the Dennis Canon has been found by the Texas Supreme Court to have been revoked, leaving the property in trust for the parishes and missions in fellowship with the Diocese, and only those individual defendants before the court are the duly-elected officers of the Diocese and the Corporation.

Judge Chupp posed a number of questions to the Plaintiffs during their presentation, and the discussion was frequently animated. Near the conclusion of the hearing he indicated a philosophical preference for local self-determination, asking, “Why do we need to have a ‘big government’ solution to this where a New York church says [what is best]?”
While the ruling on the motions for partial summary judgment is yet to be issued, one section of the dispute will go forward separately. During oral argument by attorney Frank Hill, who represented the plaintiff parishes, Judge Chupp decided to sever out the claims of All Saints’, Fort Worth, for a separate jury trial this spring. As an alternative, the judge urged Mr. Hill several times to opt instead for a settlement under diocesan Canon 32, which sets out a procedure to follow in cases where a parish wishes to separate from the Diocese. Though Mr. Hill expressed his belief that the Diocese would not have given the parish a favorable settlement at any time from 2008 to the present, the judge chided him, saying, “But you didn't even try.”
Following the hearing, Bishop Iker commented, "I am grateful to everyone who observed a time of prayer and fasting for this key hearing. While we were very encouraged by several comments and questions posed by Judge Chupp to attorneys on both sides, we have learned that you cannot rely on impressions to try to predict what his ruling might be.
“Continue to pray for clarity and right understanding for him as he considers how to decide this case in the days ahead. We hope to have a decision sometime next week. We continue to trust in the Lord for the outcome in this case.”
Look for Judge Chupp to issue his decision in a week or so.

6 comments:

  1. Please keep us in your prayers. This is the same judge who asked the right questions about leaving and whose name was on the documents, and then ruled against us at the first hearing.

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    1. Mr. Tom confirmed my recollection of previous events.

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    2. Our prayers are with you and the DioFW Fr. Hightower. Also, welcome to St. Matthias'.

      Daniel New

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  2. I do not want to start celebrating too early here. I've been thinking about the hearing since Friday. The judge seemed ready to rule, but wanted the submission of written sample orders. I suppose his style is to not write an opinion, but to simply sign orders. The severing of the All Saints' case seems particularly important. If he were to rule for the plaintiffs, I can't think of how that could possibly make sense. It would be moot. TEC and the TEC parish would own the property. If he were to rule for the defendants (the original Iker diocese), a trial for All Saints' would be practical because of the mix-up in the titles for various parish properties. Did Chupp let the cat out of the bag?

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  3. Keep prayers coming for sure! I was thinking that Judge Chupp probably wants this case gone, once and for all, from his court. If he rules for TEC, we will appeal to 2d Court, who, by all past rulings, will send it back to Chupp. If he rules for us, TEC will appeal to 2d Court and again, by all past rulings, probably stay his ruling. TEC will then appeal to Texas Supreme Court, where they will probably all have a "good laugh" and deny a hearing. I don't think Chupp wants any higher court to "slap his hand" a second time.

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