February 1, 2010

Now What? Part 1

Now that Judge Joseph M. James has ordered property returned to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh from the breakaway diocese led by Archbishop Robert Duncan, it is time to note some reactions to this development and to begin taking stock of what happens next. (See my earlier posts beginning here.)

Episcopal News service ran a story today about Friday’s court order. You can read it here. Note, however, that the link to information about the litigation given in the story does not actually take you to the proper page. To access the public documents available in Calvary v. Duncan, go here, enter the case number, GD-03-020941, at the top of the page, and click on OK at the bottom of the page.

Curiously, nothing about the court order has been posted on the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh site. (As noted in my earlier post, the Episcopal Diocese has made a statement here.) AnglicansUnited.com, however, has both a press release from the Anglican diocese and a note from “Archbishop Bob.” The press release, from January 29, 2010, the day of the court order, reads as follows:
The Allegheny Court of Common Pleas today issued an order to “transition to” the TEC Diocese “the possession custody and control of the real and personal property identified in the Special Master’s Report” which was presented to the court on January 27, 2010. The Anglican Diocese will appeal this order.

The property identified in the Special Master’s Report includes all of the diocese’s bank and investment accounts as of October 4, 2008. This includes the diocese’s investment accounts with Morgan Stanley which have otherwise been frozen since January 2009. The property identified in the Special Master’s Report also includes all real property deeded to the Board of Trustees for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

With regard to the real property covered by today’s order, the court’s order specifically provides that “no real property shall be sold or current occupants removed without further Order of this Court.”

With regard to parish funds held in the Morgan Stanley investment accounts, the Special Master’s Report provides that “parishes for whom such property is administered have the right to withdraw the cash or investment asset value … at any time….”
The message from Robert Duncan, dated January 30, 2010, reads:
Dear Friends,

Yesterday evening, you received an email describing Friday’s court action, written by our lawyers. We wanted you to have this information as soon as possible. This morning, I wanted to write to assure you that we will continue to work diligently for the protection of all our parishes and for the good of our mission and ministry. We also intend to keep you updated – as fully and quickly as we are able to. Please continue to keep these matters in your prayers, remembering that we serve a faithful and mighty God.

Archbishop Bob
The reassurances of January 30th are, you might think, somewhat vague and do not reiterate the assertion that an appeal is forthcoming.

My understanding—but remember that I am a computer scientist, not a lawyer—is that Judge James’s order of October 6, 2009, determined that the Episcopal diocese is entitled to diocesan property held by the diocese before its division in 2008. The court order of January 29 only clarified what that property is and how fast it must be transferred from those who currently and improperly are enjoying the use thereof. Although the defendants can quibble about the schedule and the details of the asset list, an appeal to the decision that the property is to be controlled by the Episcopal Church diocese had to have been made within 30 days of October 6. It was not. It therefore appears that no appeal by the defendants will prevent the loss of a majority of the assets of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The asset list prepared by the special master and attached to Judge James’s order did not mention a whole class of assets, namely, office furniture and equipment, computers, photographic equipment, and the like. I would expect that these, too, should be turned over to the Episcopalians. I do not know whether Archbishop Duncan’s vestments are personal or diocesan property, but I suspect that there are some episcopal vestments stored in Trinity Cathedral that also belong to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

More thoughts on the fallout from the court order will be the subject of my next post.

1 comment:

  1. The Post Gazette published a story Oct. 30, 2009, apparently within the deadline, that the then renamed Anglican Diocese would appeal. Apparently nothing happened.

    Perhaps the strategy will be to appeal over some coveted individual asset (e.g. an altar piece) which may make a more appealing story. My theory has been that the legal actions will be based on publicity and not necessarily sound legal strategy.

    Blissfully Ignorant Non Lawyer Geoff Hurd


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