Court News for Pittsburgh, Fort Worth and San Joaquin

[UPDATE 04/05/2011: Judge Chupp has granted the motion to sever and stay filed by Bishop Iker and his fellow defendants. This puts an end to all the nonsense about discovering accounts and inspecting properties, and freezes the case so that the Court of Appeals can take up the severed part of the case -- the part in which Judge Chupp granted the plaintiffs' motions for summary judgment -- now, rather than later. As noted below, this was a decision that needed to be made in order to prevent chaos and disorder from taking over.]

News is coming in on the various court cases against the dioceses which left ECUSA.

In Pennsylvania, the Commonwealth Court of Appeals issued on March 29 a one-sentence order denying the earlier request filed by Bishop Duncan and his diocese for a rehearing en banc (with the full court, instead of just the three-judge panel which issued the original decision). This leaves the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh with only two alternatives: (1) appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which need not accept the appeal; or (2) reach a settlement of some kind with the Calvary Church group and the rump diocese.

In Texas, Judge Chupp indicated at the hearing held on March 31 that he wanted to sever from the rest of the case the declaratory relief claims, on which he had granted partial summary judgment in February, and stated: "The appellate court will decide whether [ECUSA] is a hierarchical church or not." Never mind that that is not the controlling issue, assuming Texas courts properly follow the neutral principles approach. The important thing is that the Judge wants to facilitate an early appeal, in order to prevent a lot of wasteful skirmishing that might end up not being necessary.

The local Episcopal parties and congregations of the rump Fort Worth diocese, with apparently a bottomless source of funds for attorneys' fees, are doing their level best to complicate Judge Chupp's life. On the day of the hearing, they filed some 2,000 pages worth of additional pleadings, including their "seventh amended original petition" (how many will it take before they get it right?), and a new motion for partial summary judgment on related issues. They want the judge to rule on their new motion before severing the case. He promised to look at their papers and then issue a ruling shortly. Actually, looking at the foot-high stack of papers, if I were Judge Chupp, I would want to get this case off my desk and up to the Court of Appeals just as quickly as possible:

In California, Judge Simpson of the Fresno County Superior Court issued on March 30 a tentative ruling denying the rump diocese's motion to consolidate in that Court all nine of its pending lawsuits against individual parishes in the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin, which lawsuits are currently spread among six counties from Stockton to Bakersfield. Counsel for the rump diocese and ECUSA requested oral argument on their motion, which the judge heard late Thursday afternoon. He took the matter under submission, and promised to issue a final ruling shortly. I will have more to say about the motion when the final ruling comes out.

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