Judge orders return to mediation with new mediator in SC property dispute

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Press Release from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (aka the TEC diocese – ed)

 

CHARLESTON, S.C. (JULY 23, 2019) —   After a two-hour hearing at Calhoun County Courthouse in St. Matthews, SC, this morning, First Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson ordered all parties—The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC) and The Episcopal Church, along with a group that broke away from the Church in 2012—to enter into mediation in the ongoing dispute over enforcing the South Carolina Supreme Court’s 2017 decision on diocesan and parish properties.

The hearing was initially in regard to a lawsuit filed against TECSC and The Episcopal Church by the breakaway group that has come to be known as the Betterments Act case. It was filed in November 2017 and cites the little-used Betterments Act statute to seek compensation from TECSC and The Episcopal Church for the cost of improvements made to the properties over the years. That suit followed a decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court on August 2, 2017 ruling that all diocesan property and the property of 29 parishes is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and TECSC.

During the hearing, attorneys for TECSC and The Episcopal Church argued the grounds for dismissal of the case, per their motion filed on December 15, 2017. During the course of the arguments, Judge Dickson asked several questions on issues surrounding ownership and trusteeship of the involved properties.

In response, the attorneys for the breakaway group primarily argued that the Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017 does not, in their view, specifically identify the parishes that directly acceded to the Dennis Canon. That canon requires that church properties be held in trust on behalf of the diocese, to be used for the benefit of the Episcopal Church.

The attorneys for the breakaway group argued that the court still needs to determine which parishes acceded to the Dennis Canon. Attorneys for TECSC and The Episcopal Church countered, noting that the Supreme Court already made that determination, identifying 29 parishes that acceded and are bound by the Dennis Canon. Both sides agreed that there were seven or eight parishes that did not accede to the canon, and therefore, those parishes are not a part of the underlying case.

After both sides had a chance to present their positions to the court, Judge Dickson ordered the parties to return to mediation, even though both sides had agreed at a point earlier in the hearing that previous efforts toward mediation have not proved effective. From October 2017 to January 2018, the parties held four days of mediation ordered by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in connection with a separate federal lawsuit. No agreements resulted from that mediation, which was conducted by Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson, Jr. in Columbia, SC.

Judge Dickson noted that mediation is now mandatory in circuit court, and it is his belief that because there are “problems of the court deciding church issues,” mediation would be the best way to resolve the “competing interests in this case.” He advised that his mediation order is “global and complete” for all cases before him involving the associated parties (other than the seven or eight parishes that all parties agreed are no longer involved).

All parties agreed to select a new mediator, and the judge encouraged them to work together to select someone who is agreeable to both sides. Overall, the attorneys for TECSC were pleased with the tone of the hearing. “We have to  leave open the possibility that some things could change, and mediation would be effective,” said Chancellor Thomas Tisdale, Jr.

No timetable was set for the next steps. Judge Dickson did not rule on the motion to dismiss the Betterments Act case, nor did he grant a stay (as requested by the breakaway group) that would put the case on hold until mediation is complete.

According to attorneys, mediation is best understood as a conversation, with a mediator directing and facilitating. The only way mediation results in any action is if all parties agree to a resolution in writing.

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Steve Price
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Steve Price

I don't believe Dickson''s to" predicament "has anything to do with confusion or incompetence.It's just plain ,old fashioned corruption.

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Steve Price
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Steve Price

Decisions of the South Carolina Supreme Court are meaningless .It's continued existence is a waste of taxpayer money.It should be abolished and just allow local,politically sensitive judges to do anything they wish.This is a sad state affairs for the South Carolina judicial system.But we who have lived across the river in Georgia all our lives with access to news about events in South Carolina are not the least bit surprised.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

One other miscalculation, if I may. TECSC has sought to portray themselves as the generous victors prepared to accept with open arms all those parishioners clearly unhappy and stuck in conservative congregations. They have prepared Q & A charts and other congenial aids for those ready to be a member of the generous TECSC. I believe Church of the Cross in Bluffton, the largest parish in the diocese, has grown over the past 3 years, and has basically ignored TEC fights and just got on with preaching the Gospel and doing the work of Christ. In this they are not alone. This whole affair would have been better served by following the example TEC set in Pittsburgh.

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Stephen Skardon
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Stephen Skardon

The Church of the Cross has grown for many reasons, the least of which is that it didn't tell loyal Episcopalians to get out when it followed Lawrence out of the Church. However, it's as exception. Between 2008 (Lawrence's consecration) and 2016, his congregations lost an average of more than 40% of their members. (Since then Lawrence's group has stopped publishing membership and financial reports.)

The problem with growth in the breakaway congregations is that they have continued to rely on fear and anger to keep their folks in line. Today, people are less concerned about gays & lesbians, female clergy, and literal interpretations of the BIble. They are disgusted that Lawrence has aligned himself with Church leaders in Africa who've advocated capital punishment for gays. One Lawrence clergyman in Charleston recently preached a sermon suggesting the congregation would be better off burning down its historic buildings than allowing Episcopalians back in.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

I'd say it has grown because it is a very good missionary and pastoral church, excellent preaching and sacraments. As are many, many others in the EDSC.

EDSC is a diocese committed to the Anglican Communion at large, as the Body of Christ. It is not inclined to see itself as a national denomination among the 1000s in the USA.

I am sure parishes, especially on the pennisula, experienced a decline given all the horrible conduct/legal wrangling on both sides. People go to church to worship God. The percentage that left to join TECSC is probably negligible. That is out of one frying pan and into another one.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

From scepiscopalians blog:

"Dickson's decision to throw the case to a mediator was...clearly a gift for the dissident group.

If Dickson had done his job, today's hearing could have been the beginning of the end for them. Instead he has plunged the case once again into the netherworld of delay and deception. Even Dickson told the group they were in for a long haul.

However, this is exactly what the dissident group wanted."

I would agree that the "closed and shut" perspective of TECSC has not proved very durable. They refused to see that the 3-2 decision in the SCSC was heavy encumbered, logically and legally, and instead sought to portray the matter as over and done. They have preferred to see Judge Dickson's predicament as confusion or incompetence on his part -- unwise given that he is the one in charge. So he has called for a mediator to help him sort through a real mess, handed to him by a 3-2 ruling with lots of conflicting logic and reasoning.

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Stephen Skardon
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Stephen Skardon

Please note scepiscopalians.com is not affiliated with the Episcopal Church or the Episcopal Church in SC … as is plainly stated on every page of the site.

It is not true that any side in the case has suggested the judge is confused or incompetent. The judge has said himself -- several times -- that he was confused, and did not know what to do with the state Supreme Court decision.

While the the final ruling by the state's high court was decided by a 3-2 vote, the key issues regarding ownership of the Diocese and its properties, and the validity of the Dennis Canon under state trust laws were backed by four of the five justices. While the various opinions of the justices were "encumbered" by differing logic, the list of congregations that could leave the Church with their properties and those which were to stay was very specific. The justices have no intention of re-opening that can of worms.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

Nowhere was it said that scepiscopalians.com is affiliated with the Episcopal Church in SC. No need to note it.

I believe this is your personal website. As is the other one to which I refer, belonging to a Ron Caldwell, with "schism" in its title and a lot of antebellum drama and overtone.

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Christopher SEITZ
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Christopher SEITZ

I would never predict any development in this case. It is a mess.

SCschism web site does state that the judge is confused and the implication is that it is a personal failure and not a consequence of a messy ruling handed to him to enforce. Can of worms is correct.

His call for mediation is a signal that things are far from simple to adjudicate. It is probably no surprise that this happened in the context of the betterments phase of wrangling.

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Dan Ennis
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Dan Ennis

As a non-lawyer, I don't understand how the 3-2 vote or the various factors informing the vote of each Justice matters in term of implementation. When the Supreme Course voted 5-4 in favor of Bush in Bush v. Gore, the fact that it was a close vote with various opinions recorded didn't result in Bush and Gore being ordered to go into mediation for months to figure out how how share the presidency.

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