Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Breaking: Hearing in Fort Worth Continued to Next Week

The following is a statement just received from Bishop Iker's office (I have added the bold for emphasis):

In a hearing this morning before Judge John Chupp in the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, our attorney filed a motion that requires the lawyers who have brought litigation against us to prove that they had the legal authority to bring the suit. They moved for a continuance, which the Judge denied.

At 10 a.m. Judge Chupp adjourned the hearing due to the fact that a jury trial in another case was scheduled to resume in his court. The hearing on our Rule 12 motion will reconvene at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Please continue to keep this situation in your daily prayers, and pray for Judge Chupp and attorney Shelby Sharpe by name. As you did last Sunday, please pray during worship this week. For those who are able, fasting as well as prayer will be appropriate and appreciated on the 16th.

Bishop Iker
The plaintiffs in the Fort Worth litigation claim to be the authentic "Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth" and the "Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth." The defendants are given different designations in the lawsuit, but the fact is that they are the true and continuing Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and its associated Corporation. The District Court is thus faced with the spectacle of two entities, each of whom as plaintiff is suing itself and the other as defendants. (That is the plaintiffs' chosen strategy, as I explained in this earlier post.)

The defendant entities filed a motion under the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure which challenged the authority of the plaintiffs' attorneys to bring a lawsuit in their names. The attorneys had requested a continuance so that the court could address the partial summary judgment motion which they filed late Friday afternoon. (The judgment requested by the motion would be only "partial" because it would not resolve all of the claims in the complaint, but only the claim for declaratory relief.) The plaintiffs argued, rather inconsistently in this observer's opinion, that the Court could resolve the matter of their authority to bring the lawsuit by deciding the partial summary judgment motion as a matter of law, while it would take a lengthy factual hearing to resolve the defendants' motion challenging their authority.

The Court denied their motion for a continuance -- that is the important news in this announcement. It means that the plaintiffs will have to put on their case for their authority to file suit now, and that the court will make a decision without looking at the plaintiffs' summary adjudication papers. They argued the matter for and hour and a half this morning, when the judge had to take up a scheduled jury trial. So the hearing on the motion challenging the attorneys' authority to sue will be continued next Wednesday afternoon.

I will have much more to post on this case after next Wednesday.

[UPDATE 09/09/09: The plaintiffs have corroborated the account given above in a brief post at their Website, and given one additional detail about briefs being filed next week in response to "questions from the judge":

Attorneys for the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth and the Corporation of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth presented arguments today in the 141st District Court of Tarrant County, Texas in opposition to two motions filed by former diocesan leaders challenging the authority of the attorneys and leaders of reorganized Diocese. The hearing was continued until 2 p.m. on Wednesday, September 16, at which time both sides will present short briefs on questions from the judge, the Hon. John P. Chupp.
It is always a good sign that a judge asks questions. In my view, there are a lot of them in this case -- see my previous posts linked at this page.]

[UPDATE 09/10/09: ENS has now chimed in with its own story on the proceedings here. Note that its account makes no mention of the crucial denial of the plaintiffs' motion for a continuance, with the consequences for their partial summary judgment motion as discussed above. It now appears that the Court will squarely address ECUSA's contentions as to whether a diocese may withdraw when it takes up the matter again on September 16. The briefs which the Court has requested before the hearing, as I understand it, are specifically to address those contentions.]


  1. I'm not a law scholar, just a lay person in Ft. Worth. I see it this way - I do not think that any of our Bishops (Iker, Wantland, Duncan, etc) would have made any of these serious decisions if they were not fully aware of consequences. I do not think they would have made any move with months of studying Canon Law and having others do many hours & days of research. It seems to me the PB is always behind the eight ball as they say; she's always doing things after the fact. Does she not realize that these Bishops have a lot more experience than she does? Our Bishops wouldn't have done anything if they thought for one minute that their actions/decisions didn't have a leg to stand on. I am sure that they and their staff know Canon Law and are using it accordingly.

  2. D, thank you for leaving your comment. You are right that many hours of legal preparation and research went into the Diocese's and Bishop Iker's moves. The Presiding Bishop, as I have documented in many posts on this site, is receiving advice from a law firm which gains financially from each new suit that is brought, and which has devised a legal strategy based on the fiction that a Diocese can never leave the Church -- which contradicts the fundamental structure of ECUSA as a voluntary association of Dioceses.

    Sooner or later -- and perhaps in Fort Worth -- a judge is going to see the fatal flaw in that contradiction, and make the ruling that if it is a voluntary association, with no express restrictions on leaving in its governing instruments, ECUSA has no basis on which to argue that a Diocese may not withdraw.

    I am as confident as you are in the legal resources assisting your bishop and his diocese. The idea that there can be two "Dioceses of Fort Worth" without the necessity of complying with all of ECUSA's and the Diocese's constitutional and canonical provisions is doomed to fail eventually. The only question is whether it will happen now or later. Courts cannot reward lawlessness forever, or they would be out of business.

  3. Dear Mr. Haley,

    It is never a pleasant task to be the naysayer, but please allow me to point out an implicit assumption in your reply to D. You wrote "Courts cannot reward lawlessness forever, or they would be out of business."

    While true, this statement is also a truism. It is as true as a statement that a democracy in which the electorate realizes that they may vote themselves richer at the expense of their fellow citizens will fall into tyranny.

    It is for that reason that I do not find much solace in your reassurance. I have come to the conclusion that the nation which I served for twenty years is, with alarming rapidity, moving toward tyranny by abandoning the classical understanding of the Rule of Law. And if the country is "going out of business" (at least as we have understood that term), then there is no necessary reason to believe that the courts will not be in the crowd, if not always at the forefront.

    Please pray that my sense of what is happening is due more to my pessimism than to what is certainly the ultimate fate of our nation and our society.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  4. A.S.,
    I believe I read that in some cases individual members of a Standing Committee are also being sued. What can a plaintiff possibly get from an individual member of the Standing Committee (or the entire committee)? Surely they aren't being sued for money. What then are they being sued for? Thank you.

  5. D, the individual Standing Committee members in the Diocese of Pittsburgh were named by the plaintiff Calvary Church, because its lawsuit sought to keep them from giving their consent to allow any individual parishes to leave the Church with their property. In the other diocesan lawsuits, to my knowledge, the members of the Standing Committees were not joined as parties.