Bishop of Los Angeles, J. Jon Bruno through his attorneys has responded to an injunction by a church Hearing Panel blocking the sale of the St James the Great property in Newport Beach. In his response, he argues both that the process by which the injunction was created was unfair and prejudicial and that aside from process, the Hearing Panel has no authority in the matter anyway.
“Respondent, the Right Rev. J. Jon Bruno, appeals from and seeks an immediate stay of the Hearing Panel’ s June 16 , 2017, “Imposition of Sanctions” Order ” prohibiting Bishop Bruno from selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property” (sic) on the grounds that: (1) the order is outside the jurisdiction of the Hearing Panel; (2) the Hearing Panel did not give Respondent reasonable notice or a right to be heard regarding the sanction; and (3) the facts do not support a finding that Respondent was “disruptive, dilatory, or otherwise contrary to the integrity of the proceeding.””
On June 9th, one of the complainants, William Kroener, sent an email to the Hearing Panel and the Episcopal Church attorney stating his suspicion that a sale of the property was in the works and in a follow-up email on the 14th, offered proof that a sale was, in fact, pending. The Hearing Panel president, The Rt Rev Herman Hollerith IV then notified Bruno and asked for an immediate response and any documents pertaining to the alleged sale. Bruno delayed in providing the evidence requested due to a confidentiality agreement between him and the buyers. After that agreement was amended, the requested documentation was given tot he Hearing Panel.
On the 17th, the Hearing Panel issued its injunction;
“The Hearing Panel has considered these matters and takes them extremely seriously. If the Respondent has entered into a contract to sell, or sold, the St. James property before the Hearing Panel has decided the case, that conduct is disruptive, dilatory and otherwise contrary to the integrity of this proceeding. The same applies to his failure to supply information concerning the alleged sale. Canon TV.13 .9(a).
Acting under the authority of Canon IV.13.9(a), the Hearing Panel accordingly imposes the following sanctions on the Respondent, acting individually, or as Bishop Diocesan, or as Corp Sole, or in any other capacity: Respondent is prohibited from selling or conveying or contracting to sell or convey the St. James property until further order of the Hearing Panel.
This Imposition of Sanctions is effective immediately.”
The sale contract appears to have been completed in November of last year, just two weeks after a Hearing Panel determined that Bishop Bruno should face a disciplinary hearing. Though the property is owned by a Corp. Sole (which consists of the Bishop alone), the Diocesan Standing Committee was aware of and approved of the sale. The Standing Committee has also written to the Hearing Panel expressing their support of Bishop Bruno in this matter.
“At a special meeting this afternoon, serving as your Council of Advice, the Standing Committee, in considering the Title IV Hearing Panel sanction recommitted itself to the decision made at its November 16, 2016, regular meeting. That is:
Acknowledging the Standing Committee has no canonical authority over Corporation Sole, the members of the Standing Committee, meeting on November 16, 2016, formally go on record and consent to the Bishop Diocesan to dispose of the consecrated Church property, whose title is legally held by Corporation Sole, and provide consent to the secularization and sale of the Lido Isle real and personal property, previously occupied by St. James the Great congregation.
Additionally, the Standing Committee expressed concern regarding whether the Hearing Panel has authority over the Bishop and Standing Committee of a Diocese regarding church property, specifically in this matter, since it is not one of the articulated alleged offenses levied against you.
By way of a unanimous motion, the Standing Committee members reaffirm their action regarding the sale of Lido Isle. The Standing Committee concurs with your decision and judgment that sale of this property is in the best interest of the Diocese of Los Angeles.”
In his response, Bruno is appealing the decision of the Hearing Panel regarding the sale set to close on July 3rd on three points;
The Hearing Panel’s Sanction is Outside the Jurisdiction of the Hearing Panel.
Title IV does not give the Hearing Panel jurisdiction to control disposition of Diocesan Property. The Bishop and Diocese have control over EDLA property. The Hearing Panel can place restrictions on a Bishop’ s ministry, recommend that the Presiding Bishop admonish, suspend or depose the Bishop or any combination of these. The Canons do not authorize the Hearing Panel to take control of property. In addition, the Canons do not give the Hearing Panel the right to manage congregations of the EDLA or grant them status that the EDLA has revoked
Respondent Did Not Have Reasonable Notice or Hearing Before Imposition of the Sanction
Given the Hearing Panel’s acceptance of and non-disclosure of Kroener’ s coercive and inappropriate prejudicial and argumentative comments to Beers, Kostel and the Panel on June 9 and the morning of June 14 th, the Hearing Panel’ s immediate demand that Respondent address Kroener’s allegations and arguments within 24 hours was unreasonable
Respondent Was Not Disruptive, Dilatory, and Did Not Act Contrary to the Integrity of the Proceeding.
The only action of the Respondent cited in the Hearing Pane’ s imposition of sanctions is: “Respondent’ s counsel raised objections but did not address the substance of the Complainant’s allegation that there is a pending sale, or furnish any documentation.” First, if the Hearing Panel had considered and accepted the objections, the further response would be unnecessary and if the response was given, the objections would be waived. Second, the Respondent could not respond to the request to provide the pending sale information without violating the confidentiality agreement and potentially ending the sale thereby. Finally, the Respondent could not address the Hearing Panel’ s request without it resulting in a Diocese and TEC-wide distribution. Had the Respondent been given time to address these issues through a hearing and its objections, the Hearing Panel would have received a response.
The Hearing Panel has ordered Bruno to not sell the property and Bruno has maintained his stance that he is free to dispose of the property as he alone decides. Now we await the response of the Hearing Panel and the status of the sale set to close next Monday.
Click here to read all the original documents (pdf)