Fort Worth Requests Texas Supreme Court to Hear Appeal

Yesterday, June 1, Bishop Jack Iker and his Diocese of Fort Worth filed papers with the Supreme Court of Texas which request that court to take jurisdiction of the appeal from Judge Chupp's grant of summary judgment to Bishop Ohl and the ersatz diocese. Bishop Iker's office has released the following statement about their action:

Statement of Jurisdiction
asks state Supreme Court
to hear appeal

On Wednesday, June 1, attorneys for the Diocese initiated our direct appeal to the Texas State Supreme Court, arguing that the high court should review the trial court's Feb. 8 judgment in favor of local Episcopal Church (TEC) parties without the delay of an intermediate appeal.

The Statement of Jurisdiction asks for the Supreme Court's immediate attention to what it describes as ”the largest church property dispute in Texas history,” involving ”60 churches and over $100 million in property.”

The Statement shows that the case meets all the statutory requirements for a direct appeal. Foremost among these is the requirement that the lower court's decision challenges “the constitutionality of a state statute.” It explains that the trial court order, if allowed to stand, would overturn trust law in the state and set a precedent against the use of neutral principles to decide church property cases. The neutral principles approach has been established in Texas and most other states since 1979 and has been upheld in five Texas courts of appeal, as well as the state Supreme Court, as recently as 2007. The effect on trust law would extend to virtually every non-profit organization in the state, making it difficult or impossible for them to hold bank accounts, take loans, or conduct other business anywhere in Texas.

TEC supporters have 10 days in which to respond to the filing. Diocesan attorney Scott Brister explains that “the Court holds conference and takes votes every Monday in June; thereafter, it does not convene again until August.” Attorneys for the Diocese hope the court will accept the appeal before its summer recess and set a hearing date for early fall.

The link in the statement is to a 1.4MB .pdf of the Statement of Jurisdiction filed with the Court. As noted above, Judge Chupp's decision based itself on the now-archaic doctrine of deference to "hierarchical" churches, and only the Supreme Court can decide whether or not this approach is still valid in Texas. Bishop Iker's attorney quoted in the statement, Scott Brister, is himself a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, now back in private practice.

The appeal is a Texas-sized piece of litigation: take a look at the first five pages of the Jurisdictional Statement, which are required just to list all of the parties involved and their counsel!

We should know by June 27 whether the Supreme Court will agree to hear the appeal.

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