Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Diocese of Los Angeles Favored in Property Disputes

From Episcopal Life:

...A California Court of Appeal has ruled in favor of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles in cases where the majority of members of three Episcopal congregations voted to leave the Episcopal Church for oversight by bishops in another Anglican province.

The decision, which overturns rulings by a lower court, comes in the first of the recent cases brought to recover Episcopal Church property retained by congregations now calling themselves St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach; All Saints' Anglican Church, Long Beach; and St. David's Anglican Church, North Hollywood. The congregations voted in August 2004 to amend their articles of incorporation, and maintain that they are now part of the Anglican Province of Uganda...
The court documents can be found here. Here's one interesting quote:

...In a word, the lawsuit brought by the plaintiff general church is a property dispute -- basically over who controls a particular church building in Newport Beach -- and does not arise out of some desire on the part of the general church to litigate the free exercise rights of the local congregation. They are free to disaffiliate just so long as they do not try to take the parish property with them. Readers will look in vain in this opinion for any indication of what religious controversy may have prompted the disaffiliation. We may easily reach the merits of the case under both the “principle of government” standard of the Baker-Wheelock line, and the plain language of section 9142, without ever needing to mention the reason for the defendants’ disaffiliation. That controversy is irrelevant to this action....
Richard Zevnik, an attorney who was present for the June 18 hearing, recently left the following comment about this decision:

Procedurally, the disaffected congregations have 30 days to petition for rehearing in the Court of Appeal. Given the standards applicable to granting rehearing and the depth of analysis of the Court of Appeal's decision, there is little likelihood rehearing would be granted if a petition were filed. When the 30 days expires, the congregations then have 10 days to petition for review in the CA Supreme Court. Such a petition is reasonably likely. Review by CA Supreme Court is discretionary. It is also relatively unlikely given the procedural posture of the case.

The Court of Appeal's decision essentially has tied the trial court's hands, and an eventual judgment in favor of the Diocese and TEC is essentially inevitable. There are a number of procedural means by which that result could occur. Essentially what the congregations are left with is discretionary review by the CA Supreme Court, and if none is granted, a petition for a writ of certiorari in the US Supreme Court, which is also discretionary.
You may recognize the name of one of these parishes; St. James, Newport Beach. We have discussed it previously here and here.

To refresh your memory, let me quote a few lines from a Guardian article that is now almost four years old:

Howard F. Ahmanson Jr does not like publicity. The fiftysomething multimillionaire, who lives in Newport Beach, California, is something of a recluse...

...What is known is that in the 1990s Ahmanson, whose family made a fortune in banking, subsidised a number of controversial right-wing causes. These include a magazine called the Chalcedon Report , which carried an article calling for gays to be stoned; a think-tank called the Claremont Institute which promoted a video in which Charlton Heston praises 'the God-fearing Caucasian middle class'; and a scientific body which rejects the theory of evolution.

Now Ahmanson has a new crusade, whose repercussions will be felt far beyond the United States. He is using his cash to stir up the most divisive row facing the Anglican Church, one that threatens to rip it apart when its leaders meet in London this week...

...Leading the backlash is the American Anglican Council (AAC) based in Washington. Until recently the AAC's chief executive officer, David C. Anderson, ran St James Church in Newport Beach, California, where Ahmanson is often to be found in the congregation. The AAC's vice-president, Bruce Chapman, is president of the Discovery Institute, on whose board Ahmanson sits and which publishes research insisting Darwin was wrong...
The parish that brought us Ahmanson, Anderson, the AAC, and its latest incarnation, the Network, may soon once again be a part of the Diocese of Los Angeles. Imagine that.

J.

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