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South Carolina Episcopalians

October 16, 2018

Lawrencians Throw Everything plus Kitchen Sink at Judge Dickson to Force a Re-Opening of their 2013 Lawsuit

Today's filings in an Orangeburg court continue to bash the state  Supreme Court's 2017 ruling, while furiously battling the Church's request for a full accounting of Diocesan and parish finances.


Today, lawyers for Mark Lawrence and the 29 parishes that tried and failed to follow him out of the Episcopal Church launched an all-out attack on the August 2017 decision by the state Supreme Court that largely shredded a 2015 lower court ruling that favored the breakaways.


In their filings in the court of Orangeburg Judge Edgar Dickson, the breakaways' legal team appears to be attempting to retry the lawsuit they brought against the Church in January 2013.  In that lawsuit, they laid claim to an estimated $500 million in diocesan and parish financial assets and property.


The breakaway group hopes to exploit tensions hinted at between the five justices in their separate opinions in the case, angling for another bite at the apple by appealing anything Dickson does to implement the decision. 


They are also gambling that the new three, white male, Republican majority on the Court will work to their favor.


So far Dickson has shown no sign of reopening the case.  He was given the case by the state's high court for the purpose of implementing it only.  When he met with the attorneys in the case in August, he assured them he was aware of the need to dispose of the case expeditiously.


Breakaways' strangely fight full accounting


The breakaway group also appears to be vigorously resisting the Church's request for a full accounting of the Diocesan and parish properties Lawrence & company tried to grab on the way out the door in 2012.  The request is in the form of a motion before Dickson, on which he is likely to rule in the coming weeks.  


An impartial and comprehensive audit of this nature is not only normal for cases of this size, but usually welcomed by all parties to the court action to insure all sides get what is legally theirs. 


However, the fierce reaction to the Church's motion among the breakaway group's leadership is raising questions about what might be found.


It is now fairly common knowledge that there was much talk around the Diocesan House in 2012 suggesting that Lawrence's high command was planning to hide Diocesan assets from the Church and courts.  Among these items were reportedly bank accounts, pieces of silver, and Diocesan records. 


As part of their scheme, they also set about to destroy any evidence of the Diocese and its parishes ever being part of the Episcopal Church.  Once they apparently shamelessly "borrowed" the writings of all the legitimate bishops of the Diocese of South Carolina from an historical group in Charleston, then refused to give them back.


This pales in comparison to what appears to be hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue from trust funds and other accounts created for the benefit of the Episcopal Church and its Diocese in South Carolina.


At the parish level, we have received unconfirmed reports that some have illegally sold off parish properties and taken income from trusts set up for the Church, while others have either hidden or destroyed Church records that should have been provided to the courts.


Lawrence's liability


The question of Lawrence's complicity and liability for these things have not been publicly raised by either side until Lawrence himself raised it.


The first instance was a clergy conference before he left the Church in which he reportedly told disbelieving clergy that he could go to jail for what he was doing.  Later, reports from persons close to the former bishop told SC Episcopalians that the former bishop was often up at night after the state Supreme Court ruling in 2015 worrying about the extent to which he might be culpable for misspent or missing funds.


Fast forward to this past summer when Lawrence mentioned out of the blue to those attending one of his rallies that Church lawyers were trying to take away every penny of the "small stipend" they were paying him to be their bishop. 


That small "stipend" is $105,000 a year, along with retirement contributions and an expensive home in downtown Charleston with all utilities, maintenance, and upkeep paid for by the Diocese of South Carolina.   He also gets a pension from the Episcopal Church' Pension Fund based on his years of earnings as a priest and bishop. 


However the intriguing part of this latest admission is that the Church attorneys have not asked any judge in all this to hold him financially or criminally liable.  We can only assume that these comments are the result of conversations he might have had with his own lawyers.