Monday, October 18, 2010

And Yet Another Lawsuit in Fort Worth

One thing about those Episcopalians -- they just love to litigate. Attorneys from the firm of Hill & Gilstrap, who as I reported in this post argued the case for remnant group in Fort Worth before the Court of Appeals, have filed a new lawsuit in federal court in Fort Worth, once again naming Bishop Jack L. Iker as the sole defendant. (See my report on the earlier federal lawsuit against Bishop Iker in this post.) The suit is brought in the name of All Saints' Episcopal Church, which has a history of threatening Bishop Iker with litigation. As my time is very short just now, let me quote the press release issued by Bishop Iker's office (you may download the latest complaint from the link):

Fourth lawsuit arrives

FORT WORTH, Texas – With three suits pending in two Texas counties, members of the minority that chose to stay in The Episcopal Church (TEC) two years ago have launched another assault on much the same grounds as the first three. Today All Saints’ Episcopal Church on Crestline Road in Fort Worth has sued Bishop Jack Iker personally, in federal court.

There can no longer be any doubt that this litigation is intended to harrass, intimidate, bankrupt, and divert the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, its Corporation, and its leadership – particularly Bishop Iker – from carrying out the mission of the Church.

Ironically, only this weekend Bishop Iker made several comments in jest to a gathering of clergy and laity of the Church of England in London, saying that he had “not checked the Internet today” to see whether he had been sued again.

In dispute now is the right of the Bishop to recognize a parish in his diocese as All Saints’ Episcopal Church.

In November 2008 Bishop Iker was under threat of arrest for trespassing if he so much as set foot on the property of All Saints’ on Crestline. Thus, it was impossible for him to know the will of the majority of the parish so that he could decide whether to release the property to All Saints’, as he soon did for four other parishes that chose to stay in TEC. Instead, in January 2009 he met with concerned members of All Saints’ at another location, in the presence of the parish’s attorney. They expressed concern about a loyalty oath being required of vestry candidates and other signs that their voices were being disregarded by some parish leaders. The Bishop told them they could try to stay the course, leave as a body, or leave individually to join other parishes. Less than 10 days later approximately 100 parishioners walked out of their annual meeting and organized themselves for worship and ministry in another location.

Title to the property where the church sits is held by the diocesan Corporation, yet never since then has Bishop Iker attempted to interfere with the activities at the Crestline campus. Neither has he attempted to interfere with three other diocesan congregations which occupy diocesan property but identify with TEC. Moreover, in other cases, where a TEC-loyal minority has split from a parish to worship elsewhere, the Bishop has never attempted to stop a congregation from using the name of the diocesan parish from which it split.

Clearly, this suit is but the latest attempt to demonize Bishop Iker and ignore the decision by an overwhelming majority of delegates to two diocesan conventions – where the Bishop himself has no vote – to separate from TEC. Over and over, the complaint speaks of the Diocese, its Web site, parishes, assessment income – even the worship services themselves – as if they belong to Bishop Iker personally.

The fact is that the TEC-led minority lost, but it has not been gracious. Its leadership is embittered. The suit’s claims of “unfair competition” and “public confusion and harm” are frivolous and would be laughable if not for the fact that litigation and personal animosity damage the cause of the Gospel.

It is time for this wasteful mockery of Christian doctrine and of the civil court system to stop. However, if the minority continues to bring trumped-up charges, we will continue to defend ourselves.
The release then proceeds to discuss other recent filings in the original lawsuit brought by the remnant group in state court (Tarrant County):
To that end, we can also announce the following:

In the case pending in the 141st District Court (Tarrant County), there is no hearing date set at this time. On Oct. 8 the Diocese filed a Motion to Enforce Appellate Mandate and Strike Amended Pleadings. This asks the court to require that the plaintiffs abide by the June 25 appellate ruling, that individual members of the minority group have no authority to bring litigation on behalf of the Diocese.

In the [trademark] suit filed against Bishop Iker in federal court on Sept. 21, the Diocese’s response, filed over the past several days, includes:

• An Original Answer on behalf of Bishop Iker, denying every allegation in the suit. The Answer seeks dismissal of the suit on grounds that the plaintiff’s attorney lacks authority to represent the Diocese and that Bishop Iker does not use or claim the seal or diocesan name personally.

• A Complaint in Intervention filed by the Diocese to dismiss the suit against Bishop Iker on the basis that the suit was filed without authorization by those with authority to make such decisions for the Diocese. It seeks all attorneys' fees and expenses for having to intervene; and

• A Complaint in Intervention filed by the diocesan Corporation, whose marks have been registered without authorization, asking the court to cancel the registrations, enjoin the minority from their use, and sanction the minority lawyers. In addition, it asks the court to award a sum for damages and the full amount of attorney’s fees incurred.
The Episcopalians in Fort Worth who are financially underwriting these harassing lawsuits need to review St. Paul's Epistle to First Corinthians. They are providing living proof of the age-old wisdom behind this medieval Spanish proverb:
El judío échase á perder con pascuas, el moro con bodas, y el cristiano con escrituras.

The Jew ruins himself on passover feasts, the Arab on weddings, and the Christian on lawsuits.


  1. I am disgusted by the vicious intent of the people who are initiating these lawsuits. I cannot understand how anyone can believe it to be true Christian behavior.

    The time is out of joint: O cursed spite,
    That ever I was born to set it right!

  2. This step is probably the most personally heartbreaking of all for me. Although not Anglican myself, I've celebrated Easter at All Saints' for the past several years while visiting family and have said and sung evening prayer when I'm in the area on business. I've been ambivalent about their fellowship, knowing quite clearly their position on the legal fight, but until now there's been a uneasy tacit truce. This lawsuit is a disgrace to the parish and to the entire church of Christ.

  3. I have a question. Haven't parishes been able to leave the real (+Iker's) Diocese of Ft. Worth by majority or supermajority vote? Hasn't a parish or two left?

  4. Ah, after a closer reading, I think I see my answer.

  5. To follow up anyway: It's my understanding that as long as the minority is trying to claim that they are the real Diocese and that they threw Bishop Iker out, they can't very well vote to leave, since that would be tantamount to an admission that the Diocese itself had properly withdrawn.

  6. I'm amazed that they assert that Bishop Iker renounced his orders (thus his "renunciation" could be accepted, avoiding due process) and then sue him for continuing to minister as a bishop. Which is it?

  7. chrylis, you are entirely correct. The way the minority have structured things with 815 (who wanted to have a plaintiff to sue Bishop Iker ASAP), they have to pretend that they are the "original" diocese, started in 1983. If they were to concede that they werte established as a group only in 2009, then they would be conceding that the 1983 diocesan entity was no longer there, and they had to start over.

    Fr Matkin, please do not be amazed by any position ECUSA takes in the courts. They care not for rules or logic, but only for results. Thus the only way to stop them will be to block those expected results.