Supreme Court intervention requested in the South Carolina case: The Church of England Newspaper, March 14, 2014 March 20, 2014Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Property Litigation, South Carolina, The Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has asked the state’s Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over its dispute with the Episcopal Church and its allies, arguing the national church has been pursuing a legal strategy designed solely to “interfere with the purpose of a speedy and inexpensive resolution.”
Lawyers for the diocese on 6 Feb 2014 filed the motion after the national church appealed a ruling by the trial court that rejected its request the diocese turn over all copies of correspondence between Bishop Mark Lawrence and his attorneys. American law forbids discovery of such correspondence as being protected by attorney-client privilege. The national church had argued that as they were the true diocese and thus the client, they could waive the privilege on Bishop Lawrence’s behalf.
Judge Diane Goodstein dismissed the request, prompting the appeal from the national church. Under South Carolina law the judge’s interlocutory order is not normally subject to appeal, however while the appeals court rules on the motion the proceedings in the trial court halt.
In its 24 Jan 2014 appeal of Judge Goodstein’s ruling the national church said it should have access to the correspondence between the bishop and the diocese’s attorneys. It argued “in this dispute where both sides claim to be the one and only continuing Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina after the split in late 2012, the Respondents’ exclusive possession and access to the prior legal positions of the then-unified Diocese gives the Respondents an unfair informational advantage. The fact that the same lawyer is now representing the Respondents in this litigation only compounds that unfairness.”
A diocesan spokesman said the Episcopal Church and its local allies, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina were “misusing the judicial system to delay resolution of this case.”
“Their strategy of appealing an interlocutory order is evidence of that intent. This is the same strategy that caused eight months to be wasted at the start of this case in federal court where they asked the federal court to override the state court injunction.”
The national church and its supporters also filed an appeal with the Federal Court on 5 Feb asking for a review of its January decision not to take jurisdiction over the dispute.
“We are disappointed in TEC’s appeal, but it does not surprise us,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese. “The Episcopal Church has a long history of dragging out legal battles in hopes of draining the resources of parishes and dioceses it seeks to punish for leaving the denomination,” he said.
Since 2000 the national church has incurred approximately $34 million in prosecuting 83 lawsuits and defending itself in seven church property lawsuits.