Late yesterday the South Carolina Supreme Court issued a brief order transferring to itself the jurisdiction over the appeal filed by ECUSA and its rump group (ECSC) from the February 3, 2015 judgment and order against them entered by Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein. ECUSA and ECSC had themselves requested the transfer of the case in order to expedite a final decision in the case by the State's highest court, without having to wait for any intermediate decision from the Court of Appeals.
The Court's order declined further to expedite the case's briefing schedule, set oral argument in the case for September 23, 2015, and then added: "No further extensions of time will be granted." In view of the great number of parties to the case (Bishop Lawrence's Episcopal Diocese and thirty-six of its member parishes are all respondents in the appeal, represented each by their own attorneys), the Court's order relaxes some of the filing and service requirements, and urges the attorneys to compress the multi-volume record on appeal to just the documents necessary for meaningful review of the decision below.
This order will enable a written, final decision in the case to be rendered before the end of the current calendar year, and should be welcome news to those on both sides who want to put this litigation behind them, and get on with the real work of the Church.
Also, in the federal case in South Carolina, Bishop Mark Lawrence has asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to grant a rehearing, either by the three-judge panel that decided the case a few weeks ago, or else by all the judges of the Circuit Court sitting en banc (as a group). The petition is based largely on technical distinctions between the panel's recent decision and earlier cases, both reported and unreported, from the Fourth Circuit which Bishop Lawrence's attorneys maintain are inconsistent with that decision. Whether or not the petition is granted, the underlying federal case should be dead in the water pending the outcome of the case in the South Carolina Supreme Court, for the reasons discussed in this earlier post.
Finally, in the San Joaquin case (which is currently also on appeal), ECUSA and its rump diocese had filed a motion with the trial court in Fresno that sought to have all of the real and personal property transferred into their possession immediately, without waiting for the outcome of the current appeal. But the trial court yesterday issued a tentative ruling denying that motion, explaining that it lacked the authority to do what the plaintiffs asked. Since plaintiffs did not request oral argument after the issuance of the ruling, that tentative decision now becomes the final ruling of the court on the plaintiff's motion, and the status of all the property pending the appeal will not change.
The entities that hold the bare legal title to that property (in trust for the Anglican Diocese and its member parishes) have filed their opening brief in that appeal. The ECUSA parties' brief is due to be filed by June 1, after which I shall have more to say about the appeal.