December 18, 2019
Federal Judge Rips Lawrencians’ for Violating September Ruling
Lawrence group can continue to call itself the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" even though it is not recognized by the Anglican Communion
U.S. District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel blasted ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers today for failing to comply with his September 19 ruling in which he ordered them to stop being a fake Episcopal diocese. In that decision, Gergel found their efforts to confuse the public about their real identity, including the use of the name “Diocese of South Carolina” and its corporate seal, were illegal under Federal law.
Today's rebuke was the result of a complaint by Church attorneys last month that the Lawrencians were not taking his September ruling seriously. In it, the judge ordered the Lawrencians to say goodbye to their claim to have been "founded in 1785", and their practice of posting official convention journals, diocesan constitutions and canons, and reports of Trustees of the Diocese prior to 2012 on their website. Those publications and documents after 2012 cannot be published if they have any corporate marks or other words or symbols suggesting the dissident group is the actual historic diocese of South Carolina.
Gergel also ruled that all issues of Jubilate Deo and other documents bearing the marks and references to the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina be removed from the dissidents’ website, and ordered that the dissidents group stop referring to Lawrence as the “14th or “XIV” Bishop of the Diocese. The same is true in referring to annual meetings with numerical references mirroring those used by the real Diocese of South Carolina.
The ruling was a reminder that the Lawrencians are still reeling, with no strategy and no purpose. They have not had a victory in the courts since 2015. Seven years after leaving the Church, they continue to struggle to attract new members and, when they do, they turn them off by their negative messaging on gays and women in positions of spiritual authority.
"Anglican Diocese of South Carolina"
The one bright spot for the Lawrence group is that they can continue to call themselves the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina," in spite of not being recognized by the Anglican Communion or its leadership.
Lawrence and seven parishes that are loyal to him have legally affiliated with a broader group of Anglican and Episcopal dissidents called "The Anglican Church of North America." The ACNA, which has its own Prayer Book and theology, has been repeatedly rejected by the Anglican Communion as well.
November 26, 2019 (revised noon, Nov. 27)
Finding Clarity... in a Fog
Orangeburg judge may seek "clarification" from state Supreme Court on key - but not yet identified - issues in 2017 ruling
Current and former Episcopalians, hoping today’s hearing before S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson would offer a path forward from their legal quagmire, were disappointed. There is a path, but it's heading more sideways than any where else.
After a rambling all-morning session in Orangeburg, the breakaway “diocese” headed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence made a sliver of progress in pushing the judge closer to helping get at least part of its unsuccessful lawsuit against the Episcopal Church back before the South Carolina Supreme Court.
Dickson said he may be willing to send the justices a request that they "clarify" points of confusion in their August 2017 ruling in which they determined that parish properties are held in trust for the Church by the local congregations.
It seems like just another rabbit hole to SC Episcopalians, but one that could eventually provide the judge a comfort level in moving forward.
Third time a charm?
If this actually happens, it would be the third time the Lawrencians have tried to get the justices to reconsider aspects of their earlier decision, but the first time they have been able to convince a lower court judge to be their proxy.
In essence, the Supreme Court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that 29 of the 36 plaintiff parishes had agreed to be part of the Episcopal Church and therefore cannot sell or transfer ownership of their properties their properties without the Church’s consent. The Court also determined that the historic Diocese of South Carolina and its properties are part of the Church.
In November 2017 the high court gave Dickson the task of implementing its ruling, but he has done little about it. In prior hearings, he has admitted to being "confused" over this task and regretting that it had even been given to him.
The legal team for the breakaway group has played to the judge's confusion, telling Dickson that the justices wrongly identified the 29 parishes as having acceded to the Church's governing structure.
However, this morning one of the most important moments came when Mary Kostel, Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, responded to the allegation by providing Dickson written evidence of each parish's accession as it had been submitted to the original trial judge. It seemed to SC Episcopalians that the judge had not seen this before even though it was in the trial record. Read more details provided by the Diocese of South Carolina
For us non-lawyers, the trust relationship means that congregations own their parish properties and assets, but only so long as they are operated as parishes in the Episcopal Church. Should a congregation reject the role of Trustee or violate its requirements under the state's trust laws, ownership of the property and assets revert to the Church’s local diocese.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the trust relationship goes back to the origins of the Constitution, but in 1979 it suggested to hierarchical denominations, like the Episcopal Church, that they spell out that trust relationship in their national constitution and canons.
The Episcopal Church did that in the form of a new canon (church law) named after Bishop Walter Dennis of New York who wrote it and led the Church's General Convention to adopt it. Every diocese and almost every parish adopted the Dennis Canon and, in effect, agreed to act as trustees of their property for the exclusive benefit of the Episcopal Church, aka the trust’s "beneficiary".
Beating a dead horse?
Beaufort Alan Runyan is the Lawrencians' lead attorney and prime mover behind Lawrence’s unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit. He is believed to be at the heart of a broader effort to disrupt the Episcopal Church by creating a legal precedent for its parishes to leave with their property and financial assets. This began years before 2012 when Lawrence announced that he was leaving the Episcopal Church, and seems to have fallen apart after the debacle in the South Carolina courts.
Bitterly disappointed, Runyan and Lawrence have spent the past two years attacking the high court's ruling with the hope of finding some way to undermine it. Many of the key elements of the ruling were decided by 3-2 votes in the Church's favor, and they appear to be encouraged that new members of the Court appear to be more politically inclined in their direction.
Today, Runyan offered nothing new but continued familiar diatribes trying to convince Dickson that the task the Court had given him was too vague for him to move forward. He resurrected all of his past arguments, most of which have been rejected by the high court or by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in September, when he found in favor of the Church in a related case in the Federal system.
However, the strategy seems to have worked anyway. Dickson announced at the end of today's hearing that he was considering sending the request for “clarification” to the justices after getting input from both sides, but was not specific about what he wanted to ask them.
Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina did not walk away empty-handed this morning. In fact, they were very strong in offering evidence that seemed to contradict Runyan at every turn. Diocesan Chancellor Tom Tisdale felt today's session was the most substantive yet since Dickson had been assigned the case.
They have struggled in other hearings before Dickson because he often seemed unaware of key legal elements and Constitutional precedents surrounding the Supreme Court's ruling. Not that it should matter. Dickson's job is not to retry the case, but to implement the high court's ruling.
This morning, Dickson was better prepared. He appeared to be clearer that the key issues revolved around the state's trust laws, and that property laws were really secondary. He was also clear that the case does not belong in secular courts since it involves a theological disagreement in a Constitutionally-protected hierarchical denomination.
Still there were frustrating moments in the hearing in which the answers to questions Dickson raised turned out to have been included in important filings by the parties and addressed in the opinions of the justices or raised concerns that appeared not especially relevant to implementation of the Court's over two-years-old decision.
Perhaps an important part of today's session for the Church side was Dickson's belief that the justices' response to a request for clarification would settle everything that is preventing him from moving forward with implementation.
This case has been a bitter one for the Court, and not one it would take any pleasure in revisiting. The justices seemed particularly annoyed by attempts by the Lawrencians in the past to lobby them and smear the reputations of its members who did not vote with their way.
The Court has made it clear it in the past that its work on this case is done. Our guess is that it will not respond to any of the issues raised in a potential request for clarification. Based on Judge Dickson's comments today, that would still satisfy concerns he may have about moving forward.
November 24, 2019
Will Recent Pro-Church Ruling in Federal Court Matter to State Court Judge in Orangeburg?
Shadow of Judge Gergel's recent ruling hangs over legal road show in Judge Dickson's courtroom on Tuesday
For over two years, a state court judge in Orangeburg has been sitting on the most significant case in his judicial career… and, once again, attorneys for the Episcopal Church and the dissident organization aligned with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence are headed to his courtroom to see if this will be the moment he chooses to do something with it.
Don't hold your breath.
In the fall of 2017, the state Supreme Court assigned S.C. Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson the responsibility of implementing its landmark ruling from that summer in which it determined that only seven of 36 plaintiff parishes aligned with Lawrence were free to leave the Church without its consent. The remaining 29 parishes, along with the corporate entity known as the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” and the Diocese’s camp and conference center on Seabrook Island, belonged to the Church.
Dickson’s only job was to implement a decision that has already been made. There was no need for a trial or endless motions asking him to do what the state’s highest court has given him to do.
Yet the judge is still sitting on the case.
When Dickson first convened a hearing on the matter, he complained that he was confused about what he was supposed to do with the case, and even seemed to hint that he would retry it. Then he said the decision was too confusing to implement. Later he held a kind of aimless hearing on what the attorneys in the case thought he was supposed to do, which was followed by another hearing in which he allowed the Lawrence crowd to bash the opinions of the majority on the high court that ruled against them.
By the end of the last hearing in July, Dickson was clearly overwhelmed and leaped at the opportunity to order both sides to enter mediation on all the issues involved in implementing the decision … then he instantly reversed himself and ruled on two of the motions he just sent to mediation in favor of the Lawrencians.
The mediation went nowhere since the Lawrence team has refused to negotiate on the grounds that they disagree with the 2017 state Supreme Court decision and the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who have allowed it to stand.
There is speculation that Dickson might be just a bit embarrassed by a Federal court ruling in September in which U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel's found that Lawrence and his organization had violated Federal false advertising and trademark infringement laws by pretending to be an Episcopal Diocese with an Episcopal bishop since they left the Church in 2012.
In his ruling, Gergel bluntly complained that the state Supreme Court decision in August 2017 was clear and that entire matter of Lawrence's lawsuit against the Church had been in the courts too long.
While he did not expressly name Dickson, Gergel was unmistakably addressing him when he said that the outcome of the state Supreme Court ruling should have been resolved by now. He even went further in relying on the ruling to justify his own reasoning in favor of the Church.
But. as a state court judge, Dickson has no obligation to follow Gergel's lead. Lower court judges like Dickson are often conflicted by the demands of the law and their desire to look out for their friends and professional benefactors. Whether this is the case with Dickson remains an open question.
What to watch for
This Tuesday, the same issues that have been facing Dickson for two years (minus two mentioned above) are on the table. In essence they can be summarized as (a) the Church side wanting him to get moving on implementing the 2017 decision and (b) the Lawrence side doing everything it can to stall the inevitable.
Church attorneys are asking Dickson to appoint a “special master”to oversee the day-to-day transition of the Lawrence parishes back to the Episcopal Church. No congregation is being required to leave its parish buildings, but they will need to elect a vestry that is loyal to the Church, and select clergy who are in good standing with the Church.
A second issue is that the Church be able to conduct a full accounting of the assets and property of the Diocese and 29 plaintiff parishes since Lawrence became bishop in 2008. As its attorneys have argued, it is difficult to negotiate anything without knowing what it is to be negotiated.
This is not as capricious a request as it might sound.
In 2011 Lawrence got caught in a scheme in which he and his lawyers were secretly trying to give away millions of dollars in parish properties without the consent of the Church. This has increased speculation that he and his confederates in leadership roles in the parishes have illegally hidden or given away other assets. In fact, SC Episcopalians has been given reliable reports of rectors and vestries hiding documents establishing their identity as belong to the Episcopal Church, selling off Church property, and transferring liquid assets to trusted co-conspirators.
Church lawyers are also asking Dickson to reverse his earlier ruling to allow the Lawrencians to sue the Episcopal Church for the value of the parish properties they feel they have “lost” under the 2017 Supreme Court ruling.
The state's Betterments Law allows former defendants, who made improvements on someone else's property that they thought they owned, to be reimbursed for those improvements if they lose to the rightful owners in court.
Those who followed the case know that the Lawrencians were plaintiffs, not defendants, in their lawsuit against the Church.
They were also not mistaken in assuming their owned their parish properties. The Church agrees that local congregations own their own parish properties, but their ownership is contingent on their willingness to hold the properties in trust for the Episcopal Church. Under South Carolina law, when a trustee fails to perform its duty to the beneficiary of the trust, the assets of the trust (in this case, parish property) reverts to the beneficiary (in the case, the Church).
Also, under the Betterments Act, the "defendants" have to have fully vacated the property in question before they can bring a lawsuit claiming they are entitled to reparations.
November 16, 2019
Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina Looks to its Future at 229th Annual Convention
Over the weekend, the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina reveled in the restoration of its legal and historic identity at its 229th Annual Convention as it embraced its future with a kind of optimism it has not known in nearly twenty years. The dark and rebellious shadow that nearly crippled its proclamation of the Gospel during that time is now moving into its rear-view mirror, as a spirit of renewal and rebuilding takes hold.
Delegates were cheered by a recent Federal Court decision that found ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his anti-Church followers had intentionally and illegally engaged in a seven year scheme to create confusion and false messaging about their public identity when their congregations lost thousands of members following a failed schism against in 2012.
The Diocese was awarded full control of its historic name and corporate identity which it had lost temporarily in 2013, thanks to an incompetent lower court state judge.
One of the highlight of the Convention was the final Bishop’s Address by the Right Rev. Gladstone “Skip” Adams, who gave up the first three years of his retirement to serve as provisional bishop of the wounded Diocese also known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.” (Full text will be linked when it is available)
Adams is leaving the Diocese and returning to Upstate New York, where he was first elected bishop.
It fell to Bishop Skip to spearhead the Church’s reconciliation efforts to embittered former Episcopalians who tried to leave the Church with Lawrence and the Diocese’s financial assets and parish properties. On two occasions the Diocese entered court-ordered mediation with the breakaway group, but were stonewalled. Adams’ relentless outreach and forgiving spirit was mostly met with anger and disdain.
Under Adams, the Diocese became one of the fastest growing in the Church, as new congregations formed and joined the Diocese in communities where Lawrencians still held onto property that legally belonged to the Church.
However, chief among Adams’ accomplishments is that his name – along with that of his predecessor, Charles vonRosenberg - will be forever attached to state and Federal court rulings affirming the Church’s property interest in its parishes and ownership of its Diocesan assets and corporate marks. These rulings will likely discourage future revolts like that once led by Lawrence. The final stages of legal battles to secure the return of those properties are still underway.
Among the notable actions of the Convention was a resolution asking the Church’s General Convention to establish a task force to develop resources and pre-emptive strategies to combat legal attacks on its dioceses. Five such attacks have been undertaken since 2003, including one of the most wasteful and expensive here in South Carolina. Increasingly, it has become clear that much of this rebellion was financed by wealthy people who were not even Episcopalians.
November 12, 2019
Lawrence Group Hauled Back into Federal Court for Ignoring Gergel Injunction
Lawrence followers continue to spend money for bad advice from lawyers who have repeatedly failed them
Ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers will be heading back to Federal Court as lawyers for the Episcopal Church and its local diocese ask a Federal judge to take additional, unspecified steps against them for their continuing to impersonate themselves as an Episcopal diocese and part of worldwide Anglicanism.
United States District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston issued an injunction in September barring the Lawrencians from representing themselves in ways that illegally suggest they are the Church’s historic Diocese of South Carolina, and that Lawrence is a legitimate Episcopal bishop.
A complaint filed by the Church with Gergel today cites numerous examples of the Lawrencians’ flaunting the judge's order that they desist from all activities and advertising that would confuse the public about who they really are.
Lawrence and his followers left the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2012, but faced with massive losses in membership, Lawrence encouraged those loyal to him to use the word “episcopal.” Over the past eight years, even though he'd left the Church, Lawrence continued to cling to the status symbols, bling, and pageantry to which he once had a legitimate claim. He was the legit bishop of the legit Diocese of South Carolina from 2008 to 2012.
In response to Gergel’s injunction in September, the Lawrencians did change their group’s name from the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” to the “Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.” However, Church lawyers argue it is merely another deception, since the Episcopal Church is the only body recognized by the Anglican Communion as a legitimate expression of worldwide Anglicanism.
They also zero in on Lawrence's insistence on advertising himself as the “14th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina” and identify his conventions with the same numbering system, formats, and journals as the historic and legal Diocese. Here's the complaint
The complaint also takes shots at the way the diocesan newspaper, Jublilate Deo, and Camp St. Christopher are still being used to suggest they are part of the Lawrence's sect.
For some reason the Church's legal team continues to treat Lawrence and his group with kid gloves. Today's complaint makes no mention of any fines or criminal penalties for Lawrence or his associates even though the Lanham Act, under which Gergel's injunction was issued, provides for them.
It also fails to ask Gergel to give Lawrence the boot from his current residence, which is the official residence of the legitimate Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, or its headquarters on Coming Street in Charleston. Here's the full story
October 29, 2019
Orangeburg Judge Schedules Another Hearing on Implementation of 2017 Supreme Court Ruling
More than two years after he was assigned the case, Judge Dickson sets Nov. 26 for a hearing on motions that have been pending before him for over a year
South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Edgar Dickson has scheduled another hearing next month to “to hear the motion for reconsideration and any other pending motions that have not been heard” in the implementation phase of the August 2017 ruling by the state Supreme Court on whether 36 congregations aligned with ex-bishop Mark Lawrence can leave the Episcopal Church.
Dickson was given the decision in November 2017 but has been less than aggressive in moving it forward. In that decision, seven of the dissident congregations were allowed to leave the Church without its permission, but the others were found to be subject to the Church's Dennis Canon, which requires them to operate in trust for Episcopalians and their Diocese of South Carolina.
Dickson has been widely criticized for his handling of the matter from blogs like this one to the United States District Court in Charleston.
His friendships with members of the breakaway congregation in Orangeburg, the involvement of his former law firm on the breakaway side, and his relations with attorneys representing the breakaway group have raised questions about his suitability as an impartial administrator of the high court's ruling.
The motion for reconsideration is a request by the Church's legal team for Dickson to revisit his decision over the summer to allow a nuisance lawsuit brought by the 29 congregations remaining with the Church. In that lawsuit, the breakaway group wants compensation for their parish property since their founding, dubiously claiming they didn't realize they were part of the Episcopal Church.
The Church is also asking Dickson to give a green light to a full accounting of the properties of the 29 parishes and Diocese of South Carolina, and the appointment of a special master to oversee the day-to-day transition of the breakaway congregations into the mainstream of the Church.
October 15, 2019
Was a Supreme Court Justice Seeking Lawrence's Permission to Get Married when He Voted in His Favor this Summer?
Jesus took a very hard line on divorce, which is why Church hierarchies get queasy over the re-marriages of people who are divorced. Many require divorced people to submit to a premarital examination by Church authorities about their previous marriage(s) and leave it up it to their bishop to grant permission for the new marriage to take place.
After reading our original report (below) on the recent marriage of state Supreme Court Justice John Few at St. Philip’s in Charleston, some of our readers wondered if he and his wife – both divorced – had secured the permission of Mark Lawrence to remarry. This is what the breakaway organization requires of any divorced person getting remarried, as does the Episcopal Church.
St. Philip’s is still in the hands of dissident clergy loyal to Lawrence, even though two years ago the state Supreme Court determined that it belongs in the Episcopal Church.
While Justice Few was not one of the justices participating in that ruling, he was part of the Court when it decided over the summer not to issue a Writ of Mandamus that would have forced Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson to get motivated and implement the ruling as he was instructed to do.
Justice Few voted in Lawrence’s favor.
Did the the bride and groom think theirs was an Episcopal wedding?
One of the odd things about the wedding notice in the New York Times is that it identifies the officiant at St. Philip's as “an Episcopal priest.” He isn’t. The source of that information is not clear.
However, if the service was based on the Book of Common Prayer, we wonder if Justice Few knew that he was not being married in an Episcopal Church or by clergy not recognized by the Anglican Communion.
Sure, it sounds far-fetched. However, as we learned from a Federal Judge last month, Lawrence has been intentionally engaged in a seven-year scheme to confuse people about whether he and his followers are part of the Episcopal Church. Many people have fallen for it.
We couldn’t help but notice that the premarital examination form Lawrence uses for divorced people seeking his permission to remaryy actually bears the seal of the Episcopal Church’s Diocese of South Carolina, and even bears the name, “Diocese of South Carolina”. (Yes, it is illegal and a violation of the recent Federal Court ruling, but that’s Lawrence.)
October 14, 2019
Justice's Wedding Notice Raises Questions about Writ of Mandamus Ruling
Should Justice Few have disclosed he was getting married in parish that is still resists compliance with a two-year-old Supreme Court ruling, or that his fiance is a partner in a firm that represents a breakaway congregation?
This past weekend, 56-year-old South Carolina Supreme Court Justice John Cannon Few was married to a Charleston attorney at St. Philip’s in Charleston. Congratulations to them!
However, the wedding announcement in the New York Times raised some eyebrows - including ours - about Justice Few’s participation in a recent decision by the Court related to ex-bishop Mark Lawrence's unsuccessful attempt to lead 29 of 36 parishes out of the Episcopal Church with their property and financial assets.
The question is whether the justice's situation constitutes the appearance of a conflict that might influence his ability to fairly decide issues stemming from the Lawrence matter.
Here's what you need to know
In August 2017 the Court ruled that 29 of the 36 breakaway parishes aligned with Lawrence could not leave the Episcopal Church without its consent. The Chief Justice handed off the decision to Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson for implementation.
Since then, Dickson has mostly sat on his hands allowing what is surely the most important case in his judicial career to languish.
Earlier in the summer, Church attorneys asked the Court for a writ of mandamus that would force Dickson to move forward with implementation.
Two months ago, in a decision signed by four of the five justices, the Court rejected the request for a writ, in essence allowing Dickson to continue his dilly-dallying, holding up the inevitable transition of the 29 parishes back to the Episcopal Church.
Justice Few was one of the four signers.
New York Times
Here are concerns raised by his wedding announcement relative to his participation in the Court's decision to deny the writ of mandamus.
- The justice was married at St. Philip’s in Charleston, one of the 29 pro-Lawrence parishes not in compliance with the 2017 ruling. Also, its attorney was part the breakaways’ legal team that successfully convinced the high court, including Justice Few, to reject the Church’s request for a writ of mandamus.
- The justice’s new bride is a partner in the law firm representing St. Philip’s in the case.
- The clergyman, who married the couple, was described in the story as an “Episcopal priest," when in fact he is not. Just last month, a Federal Court in Charleston ordered Lawrence and his followers to immediately desist from falsely advertising themselves as part of the Episcopal Church.
So taken separately, these items might be excusable. However, taken as a whole, we wonder if they do not raise a legitimate question of whether the justice should not have recused himself in the matter of the writ of mandamus and - in fact - all other related matters going forward.
The Justice and his new wife were most certainly aware that St. Philip's was actively involved in a highly contentious case in the state courts in which the parish and its officers could be held in contempt of court for ignoring the 2017 decision.
While it is not clear who submitted the wedding announcement to the New York Times, it is inconceivable that its author was unaware that the priest was not an Episcopalian, and consequently subject to the Federal injunction against his masquerading as such.
The other justice
This would also not be as big a deal if it were not for the fifth justice on the Court whose signature was missing from ruling on the writ of mandamus.
Associate Justice Kaye Hearn recused herself from participating because she was among loyal Episcopalians kicked out of their parishes in 2013 when Lawrence forces took control. She was one of the five justices who ruled in 2017 on the appeal of Lawrence's original lawsuit, but the unprecedented attack on her character orchestrated by the breakaways forced her to agree to recuse herself in future rulings in the Lawrence matter.
When their case was brought to the state's high court, the Lawrence crowd assumed that Hearn would be no threat to them, and consequently failed to ask her to recuse herself.
However, after Hearn proved to be a pivitol vote against them, they created a public uproar over what they claim was her bias, even though the case had already been decided. They even engaged a national right-wing PR firm to trash her character.
To protect the Court's integrity, Hearn agreed to recuse herself from any further votes on issues related to the Lawrence matter. Consequently she sat out the consideration of the request for a writ of mandamus.
What is the standard?
While we are not lawyers, the questions raised in the Hearn and Few matters make us wonder what the standard is for recusal for a judge in our state.
At a minimum, the justices should be willing to identify potential sources of bias before a case is heard. Justice Hearn's situation was well known to the Court as well as to the Lawrencians, prior to the Lawrence case being heard. However, it does not appear that Justice Few made any attempt to disclose his situation prior to considering the writ of mandamus and voting in favor of a client of his new wife's law firm.
While failure to disclose conflicts is not an impeachable offense, it's our view that judges are remiss in their duty to uphold the integrity of the judicial system when they fail to do so, especially in cases like this one where their has been so much behind-the-scene politics and incompetence.
Thousands of South Carolinians have lost faith in the state's judiciary over a lawsuit that never should have seen the light of day. As Federal Judge Richard Gergel said last month, it's time for this case to be over.
October 7, 2019
Lawrencians Will Appeal Gergel Decision
Even as they defy the S.C. Supreme Court, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Federal District Court, the Lawrence group says it will appeal devastating Federal Court ruling against them
When United States District Court Judge Richard Gergel delivered a stunning defeat to ex-Bishop Lawrence and 29 parishes loyal to him last month, he seemed to be daring them to appeal his ruling to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
In his opinion, Gergel cited dozens of legal precedents generated by the Fourth Circuit to support his finding that the Diocese of South Carolina belongs to the Episcopal Church. Under a Federal law on false advertising and trademark infringement, Gergel found that Lawrence was illegally and intentionally misrepresenting himself as a bishop, and that many congregations loyal to him were participating in a scheme to misrepresent themselves as part of the Episcopal Church.
The Fourth Circuit has already ruled twice against the breakaway group on procedural issues. They will almost certainly lose this appeal. However, the Lawrence crowd has repeatedly thumbed its nose at the state and Federal courts, and likely will continue to do so unless Church attorneys go after them for criminal conduct.
October 5, 2019
Diocese Presses Orangeburg Judge to Get Moving on Implementation of 2017 Decision
As Chancellor Tisdale requests a new hearing, Dickson appears torn between loyalty to his friends and complying with State Supreme Court directive
The First Judicial District at first seemed a peculiar venue for Mark Lawrence and his breakaway group to file lawsuit in 2013 seeking $500 million in Church property and financial assets. It comprises the mostly rural counties of Calhoun, Orangeburg, and Dorchester counties, where there is not an unusually large number of Episcopalians.
Speculation is the District was chosen because of the close ties between its judges and members of Lawrence's 40-plus member legal team, and their reputation for looking out for the interests of each other.
The trial of the case in 2015 in the courtroom of First Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was at times a circus, with the judge even banning any mention of the name of the Episcopal Church.
When her ruling was overturned by the state Supreme Court in 2017, Goodstein's First Circuit colleague, Judge Ed Dickson, was given the assignment of implementing it, but mysteriously has chosen to sit on his hands for nearly two years. Dickson was once a partner in one of the largest and most powerful law firms on the Lawrence meal ticket, and there is concern that he is feeling pressure to look out for his friends by holding up implementation of the decision.
In what appeared to SC Episcopalians to be a further delay tactic by the judge in July, Dickson handed off his responsibility for implementing the high court's decision to the parties in teh case and a professional mediator.
To no one's surprise, the Lawrence crowd refused to engage in the conversations, just as they have every time they have had a chance to settle the case. The pattern is familiar. In 2015, they even refused to consider an offer by the Church to give them their parish buildings and withdraw the Church's claims to their property.
With the collapse of the mediation and the recent ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in favor of the Church, the pressure is back on Dickson to quit stalling. Without directly naming Dickson, Gergel clearly sent a message to him in his ruling that state Supreme Court decision was clear and should be settled.
Against that backdrop, Tom Tisdale, Chancellor for the Diocese of South Carolina (also known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina) reportedly sent a letter to Dickson today asking him - more politely than we would -- to convene a new hearing on moving forward with implementation of the August 2017 decision.
Dickson is almost certainly too weak to actually do it, but it will be a reminder to the Supreme Court justices that he is continuing to obstruct resolution of this seven year-old lawsuit.
September 26, 2019
Doomed Court-Ordered Mediation Goes Nowhere
Former breakaways want to re-litigate issues settled by state Supreme Court, while Circuit Judge's confused mediation instruction guaranteed failure of their court-ordered talks with the Church
A court-appointed mediator met with legal representatives of the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina, and lawyers for ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his remaining followers today to resolve differences over how the 2017 Supreme Court decision on the dissidents' unsuccessful 2013 lawsuit against the Church should be implemented.
The talks went nowhere, and ended up with the parties issuing the following statement: "On July 23, 2019, Judge Dickson ordered the parties to mediate. On September 26, 2019, the parties mediated for a full day and ultimately the mediator declared an impasse.”
The problem is that the Lawrence crowd is trying to use the courts to obstruct implementation of the high court's two-year-old decision that 29 congregations aligned with Lawrence lack legal authority to leave the Episcopal Church without its consent.
They want another shot at getting the Supreme Court to re-hear the case, even though the justices have already refused to do so ... twice. Even more compelling is that the breakaway group appealed the decision to the United States Supreme Court which rejected it, in effect, affirming its credibility as settled law.
The Lawrencians have responded with a carefully orchestrated information dissemination campaign, mainly though parish clergy and lawyers, to convince their followers that the case is not settled. They continue to tell their congregations that the question of their belonging in the Episcopal Church was not resolved in 2017.
"They are pretending the Supreme Court decision didn't happen ... giving their clients hope that a first-year law student wouldn't do" -- former member of a Lawrence congregation.
The key to much of the Lawrencians' strategy was that they brought their original lawsuit, demanding that the Church give them $500 million in diocesan assets and parish properties, in the state's First Judicial District, comprised of Orangeburg, Dorchester, and Calhoun counties. Lawyers around the state generally agree its courts are highly political, as in very friendly to local lawyers, prominent citizens, and their friends.
The judge in the case is a former partner in one of the big law firms representing Lawrence.
After deciding against the Lawrencians in 2017, the state Supreme Court "remitted" its decision to Second District Circuit Judge Ed Dickson, who promptly decided to sit on it for the past nearly two years. When he was finally embarrassed into holding some sort of hearing, he seemed ill-at-ease and confessed that he didn't know what he was supposed to do with the case.
Last July, he finally held a much-anticipated hearing on how he should handle the case, during which he seemed to struggle keep control in the midst of the aggressive tactics of Lawrence's legal team. In our view, Dickson didn't seem to understand that his job was not to retry the case, but implement the Court's ruling.
At the end of the hearing Dickson in essence threw up his hands and told both sides to enter mediation to settle all the issues before him... but then strangely caved into Lawrence's lawyers and ruled on two issues of the key issues that he had just ordered to be mediated.
Even more confusing, his mediation order seemed to direct the parties to renegotiate the key issues in the Supreme Court's 2017 decision regarding the legal status of parish properties.
What happened in mediation?
Our guess is that today's session broke down when the breakaways wanted to re-litigate the original case, and the Church side said there was nothing left to litigate.
The breakaway side did very much the same thing when they stonewalled court-ordered mediation in the Federal false advertising case, recently adjudicated in the Church's favor by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
While both sides have been ordered not to comment on the mediation today, it is fairly clear that Dickson's inability or unwillingness to comply with the high court's implementation order, coupled with his unnecessary opening of a can of worms with his mediation instructions, guaranteed the collapse of today's talks.
Breakaways running out of courts
Lawrence and his legal team have raised and spent millions in pursuit of winning a legal victory that might justify their mini-rebellion against the Church in 2012, but so far they have been laughed out of every court in which they tried to make their case.
Gergel's ruling blew up their ridiculous claim that they "owned" the Episcopal Church's Diocese of South Carolina, and made it clear - in a not-so-subtle wake-up call to Dickson - that the state Supreme Court's decision was the law and the case needed to brought to an end.
Unfortunately for the Church, the Lawrencians still have acolytes who believe their creative interpretations of the legal system and are inspired by the anti-gay, anti-women heart of their movement.
Curiously, after one of his legal defeats in 2018, Lawrence himself seemed to have lost his zeal for homophobia and misogyny, telling a group of his supporters the real reason he left the Church was his fear of Sunday School teachers showing up dressed as a man one week and a woman the next.
September 21, 2019
Bishop Adams: We are the Diocese of South Carolina, and Always Have Been
Three years after becoming the Provisional Bishop of South Carolina, Gladstone "Skip" Adams took to the pulpit in his Cathedral today and announced plainly, "We are the Diocese of South Carolina."
Worn down by seven years of bitter attacks in public and in the courts, loyal Episcopalians filled Grace Church Cathedral this morning to hear their bishop announce that, with significant victories in state and Federal courts, the end of the schism by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence was within sight.
Adams surprised the congregation at the 11 o'clock service when he ascended the pulpit unannounced to deliver a report on last week's House of Bishops meeting in Minneapolis and Federal Court ruling in Charleston. His apparent sense of relief and optimism about the future of the Diocese invited repeated gasps, tears, and applause from those he has helped lead through one of the darkest times in the history of the Diocese.
Adams reported that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry invited him to brief his fellow bishops on legal developments in both state and Federal courts. He said he received a standing ovation from all in attendance, quickly noting that it was meant for all the people of our Diocese who had so valiantly sustained the work of ministry in these difficult years.
He noted that representatives of both sides are scheduled to meet this Thursday in an attempt to mediate issues that remain between them. He said the Church's side would be seeking "the highest degree of reconciliation in Christ, being bold in faith, and bold in hopefulness."
Adams became the provisional Bishop of South Carolina in 2016, taking over from the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg who accepted the position in January 2013 when Lawrence left the Episcopal Church. Both men never abandoned their vision of reconciliation in spite of were repeatedly ridicule an insults from those with whom they sought to be reconciled.
September 19, 2019
Federal Court: "Diocese of South Carolina" Belongs to the Episcopal Church
In a stinging rebuke of Mark Lawrence and his followers, today's ruling (a) finds that they were engaged in an intentional and illegal campaign to confuse the public about their corporate identity at the expense of the Episcopal Church, (b) returns the official corporate "marks " of the Diocese to the Church, and (c) immediately bars the former breakaways from claiming to be the "Diocese of South Carolina" or any variation, or using its symbols, seal, or shield.
After more than six years, a daring legal gamble by former South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg and Chancellor Thomas Tisdale finally paid off today as a Federal judge in Charleston ruled in essence that the “Diocese of South Carolina” is and always has been part of the Episcopal Church.
In a ruling that was both stunning and stinging, United States District Judge Richard Gergel declared that ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers have no claim of ownership to his former diocese or its corporate "marks,” and immediately barred them from using names, symbols, or seals that might suggest they are in any way the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina or affiliated with the Episcopal Church.
The ruling finally brings to an end any legitimacy Lawrence has as a religious leader in South Carolina, and the champion of a well-financed movement to break up the Church because of its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in roles of spiritual authority, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with their own literal interpretation.
Today's ruling, coupled with a similar favorable ruling in 2017 by the state Supreme Court, gives the leadership of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina the legal tools it needs to mop up the damage caused by Lawrence's disastrous episcopate and unify Episcopalians in the eastern half of the state.
When Lawrence abandoned the Episcopal Church in 2012, he held an unauthorized convention of supporters in Charleston that approved his lawyer's scheme to take the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church. A month later he and 36 parishes aligned with him filed a lawsuit against the Church in which they laid claim to an estimated $500 million in Diocesan assets and parish property.
During that time forward, Lawrence often insisted that the Diocese of South Carolina was still his, but just independent from the governing structure of the Episcopal Church. He continued to confirm people in Episcopal parishes and hold himself out as part of the Anglican Communion. (The Episcopal Church is the only form of Anglicanism in the United States recognized by the Communion.)
At times Lawrence and his followers even suggested that he was still a bishop in the Church, and continued to use the corporate marks and trappings of an Episcopal bishop, including living nearly rent-free in the Charleston residence of the legitimate Episcopal bishop and occupying the Diocesan House, which was created for the use of the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina.
At one point, when membership in his parishes was plummeting, he told his clergy they were free to use the word “Episcopal” in their public advertising since it was a generic term and only meant that they had a bishop.
Here comes the Judge
The identity confusion perpetrated by the Lawrence and his “diocese” was not lost on Gergel, who identified multiple instances in which Episcopalians were tricked into attending services at a Lawrence parish and even giving money to what they thought were Episcopal institutions.
Among the examples cited was an instance in which a worship service at The Citadel was advertised as "Episcopal" even though no Episcopal clergy were involved.
In an extraordinary 73-page analysis of the case, Gergel delivered a blistering, detailed critique of Lawrence and his followers in their public efforts to create confusion between their identity and that of the legitimate Episcopal diocese in eastern South Carolina. To support his determinations, he included dozens of references and footnotes to appeals that were handed down by the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals, as a subtle hint to the Lawrencian legal team that an appeal of his decision would very face very rough going.
At one point in his opinion, Gergel seemed to express astonishment at the audacity of the former bishop and his people in continuing their campaign of false advertising and trademark infringement even after vonRosenberg sued them over it in 2013.
The key to today's victory for the Church was a remarkable and risky strategy concocted by VonRosenberg and Tisdale using the Federal Lanham Act. That law was enacted to protect established businesses whose trademarks and brands are threatened by unscrupulous competitors seeking to confuse potential customers. It is a lot less complicated a case to make than one that involves broader discussion of 200 years of Constitutional precedents.
No one had ever attempted to use it in a case involving a Church. However, a legal consultant from off suggested to them that this untested strategy would be a back-door approach to de-legitimizing Lawrence's ownership claims on the Diocese and its property and assets. They also had a good hunch that the actions of the strong-willed Lawrence and his inner circle of hardliners would continue to provide more evidence of false advertising and trademark infringement for a trial.
After years of being bottled up in the courtroom of District Judge Weston Houck, the case was handed off to Gergel when Houck died two years ago.
Gergel's reputation for sound legal scholarship was on full display in today's ruling. It's a good thing as it will likely become a standard in Federal Courts faced with similar cases across the country, especially if it is upheld on appeal.
Gergel apparently agreed with vonRosenberg and Tisdale that religious organizations are just like established businesses and that their viability, good reputations, and trademarks could be just as easily be tarnished by charlatans and sinister actors.
In his opinion today, Gergel painstakingly matched evidence presented by the Church and the Lawrence crowd to specific criteria in the Lanham Act, finding in the end that the Lawrencians had engaged in significant trademark infringement and false advertising.
Here are some of the other takeaways from Gergel's opinion that are important going forward:
The corporate marks of the "Diocese of South Carolina" belong to the Episcopal Church, and Lawrence and his followers are immediately banned from using names like "Diocese of South Carolina" or the Diocesan seal or shield to describe or advertise themselves.
Gergel's references and reliance on key elements of the 2017 state Supreme Court decision, declaring 29 of 36 parishes loyal to Lawrence to be part of the Episcopal Church, moves its holdings closer to becoming "settled law" in South Carolina.
The Episcopal Church is hierarchical and the lower court judge, who tried the case in state court, should have deferred to Church law in settling Lawrence's lawsuit.
The historic "Diocese of South Carolina" is now and always been part of the Episcopal Church.
There is no question the Lawrencians intentionally and illegally tried to create confusion about their identity, in clear violations of the standards set forth in the Federal Lanham Act.
Lawrencians are barred from using names suggesting they are an "Episcopal" diocese or in any other way that might confuse people. According to Gergel, "It is undisputed that Defendants made false statements."
The following is an excerpt from Judge Gergel's opinion in this case. We publish it because so many people have been waiting for it for so long:
"The time has come for this dispute to be resolved. The Defendants have every right to disassociate from the TEC and pursue their doctrine and community as they see fit, yet they may not leave with the Plaintiffs' goodwill and marks generated over the course of over two centuries. The Court is cognizant that Defendants have since associated with a new denominational organization, and there may be other marks that properly identify their affiliation with this organization and would be sufficiently distinct to not cause any confusion with or dilute TEC's marks or constitute false advertising. However, on the facts presented here, the Court finds it undisputed that the Defendants infringed on TEC and TECSC's marks, diluted TEC's marks and engaged in false advertising regarding their affiliation with TECSC and their identity. Therefore, as detailed below, the Court issues an injunction against further trademark infringement, trademark dilution, and false advertising.
"For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs The Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, et al. 's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court GRANTS TEC's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court DENIES Defendants The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence, et al. 's Motion for Summary Judgment . The Court · DENIES Defendants The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence, et al. 's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Genericness.
The Court further DECLARES that TEC owns its five federally registered marks and that TECSC owns the marks designated in the state registrations .
Additionally, the Court hereby issues the following PERMANENT INJUNCTION and ENJOINS all Defendants, their officers, agents, servants, employees, associates, subsidiaries and affiliates from using the following marks or any mark confusingly similar:
The Court further enjoins Defendants their officers, agents, servants, employees, associates, subsidiaries and affiliates from using the following marks or any mark confusingly similar:
September 18, 2019
Episcopal Rector in Tennessee Tries to Slip Lawrencian onto His Staff
Loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina have seen this stunt before
Earlier this month, the rector of an Episcopal congregation in Tennessee posted on his parish's website an innocuous announcement of his hiring a new associate rector to begin work next month.
According to the posting, the new hire is a bright young man from a "Cathedral Church" in Charleston, who is descended "from a long line of Episcopal clergy as both his father and grandfather are priests of the church". The rector further reports that he and his wife have pleasantly known the young man's parents during years of attending conferences at Kanuga, the Episcopal retreat in western North Carolina. Read the announcement here
So why was this such a hot topic at last week's House of Bishop's meeting?
It's what the posting does NOT say.
To start with, the young man has no credentials or training as a priest in the Episcopal Church. He was not ordained in the Episcopal Church, nor does the Church have any record of such an ordination. He does not even appear to be a member of the Episcopal Church.
The "Cathedral Church" referred to in the rector's posting is, in fact, the former Episcopal cathedral in Charleston that has been at war with the Church and its real Diocese in eastern South Carolina for over a decade. In seven years of court filings, the "cathedral church's" dean and team of lawyers have insisted that it is NOT now, or ever has been, part of the Episcopal Church. (The S.C. and U.S. Supreme Courts have even told them they are wrong, but they continue to advertise themselves as "Anglican" anyway.)
While his new assistant, David Barr is ordained, the rector fails to mention that it was ex-bishop Mark Lawrence, who ordained him. Lawrence left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion long before Barr's ordination.
Lawrence claims he and his followers are a "diocese" in an organization of disgruntled former Anglicans called the "Anglican Church in North America." It was founded nearly twenty years ago by six ultraconservative leaders of Anglican provinces in Africa to disrupt the work of the Episcopal Church.
Its name notwithstanding, the ACNA is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or the Anglican Communion nor does it have any formal affiliation with the Episcopal Church, the sole Anglican province in the United States.
The Lawrence organization's claim of being a "diocese" is also imaginary, according to the courts.
It is true that Mr. Barr's father, the Rev. John Barr, was a distinguished clergyman in the Episcopal Church before he decided to abandon his ordination vows and leave the Episcopal ministry in 2012.
The parish in this scandal is the sprawling St. George's Episcopal Church in Nashville, and its rector is the Rev. Dr. Leigh Spruill.
The real tragedy here is that Mr. Barr, by all accounts, appears to have great potential as a priest, and would probably have a great career in the Episcopal Church. Fortunately for him, he was not ordained before 2012 when over 100 Lawrence clergy abandoned their ministries, so he has never actually renounced any vows that he might have taken in the Church.
The right thing for him to do is to seek out Skip Adams, the real Episcopal bishop in Charleston, whose office is in the real Episcopal Cathedral Church, just four blocks from where Mr. Barr has been working. Adams has said repeatedly that he would be open working with former ACNA clergy in helping them discern a path to ordination, if he of she really wants to serve Episcopalians in an Episcopal parish.
Unfortunately, like so many young clergy whose otherwise promising careers were disrupted by misplaced in confidence Lawrence, Mr. Barr and any Episcopal parishes he serves will always have to either explain or cover up his situation like St. George's appears to be doing.
Been there, Done that
Loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina will instantly recognize this kind of insider sleight-of-hand since it was used repeatedly against them by Lawrence and his lieutenants and even by Lawrence's predecessor.
The problem for them was that they were terrible liars and repeatedly made claims that were easily rebutted by available facts. Sneaking ringers into their official clergy lineup was one of their milder tactics.
House of Bishops
The timing of the Barr controversy was fortunate or unfortunate, depending on your perspective, since the House of Bishops was having its fall meeting immediately after it was disclosed. Tennessee Bishop Jack Bauerschmidt reportedly got an earful from is fellow bishops.
However the question of how Bauerschmidt allowed a non-Episcopalian to be hired as one of his clergy has yet to be explained publicly. Bauerschmidt is associated with the conservative Anglican Digest that for 41 years was overseen by Ed Salmon. Canon Theologian Kendall Harmon was also reported to be its editor. He has history in South Carolina and is well aware of what disaffected clergy have done here.
We also want to know why the Rector at St. George's continues to allow his misleading announcement to continue to be posted on the parish website.
August 27, 2019
Judge Won't Dismiss Lawrencians' Betterments Lawsuit, as Court-Ordered Mediation Looms
Anxious for a win, Lawrence's high command sets off premature celebration with misleading claims, and promises of undeserved riches
Orangeburg Circuit Judge Ed Dickson this afternoon told attorneys for the Episcopal Church and the followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence that he will not dismiss a nuisance lawsuit brought by the one-time breakaway group demanding unspecified millions for improvements made to their parish buildings and property going back centuries.
It's an absurd claim that the Lawrence legal crowd hastily threw concocted two years ago when Dickson was given the task of implementing the 2017 state Supreme Court's ruling that found 29 of 36 pro-Lawrence parishes wanting to leave the Episcopal Church are actually part of the Church and always have been.
Lawrencian lawyers brought the nuisance lawsuit against the Church under the state's obscure Betterments law that allows defendants on the losing side of a property case to get compensation from the plaintiffs if they mistakenly thought they owned the property in question. Lawyers for the 29 parishes have been soaking their clients with legal fees under the premise that the lawsuit has the potential to make them rich.
However, the case on which their Betterments action is based is the 2013 lawsuit Lawrence brought against the Episcopal Church claiming that he and his followers owned an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets.
In that case, Lawrence and the 29 Lawrence congregations were the plaintiffs - not the defendants. Equally as unsettling to their case, the state Supreme Court agreed with the Episcopal Church that the congregations are the owners of their parish properties per the Church's Dennis Canon and the U.S. Constitution.
So the question is why aren't the Lawrence congregations suing themselves for compensation.
Desperate Lawrence group prematurely claims victory
Even before Dickson could write up his decision on the Betterments lawsuit, Lawrence's PR machine was in overdrive, telling its followers: "Circuit Court Rules in Favor of Diocese on Betterments Statute."
In reality Dickson's decision not to dismiss - which he does not plan to issue until next week - does not appear to have anything to do with the substance of Lawrence's Betterments claim or can be interpreted as favoring one side or other the other.
The Betterments claim, along with five other motions before Dickson, are part of court-ordered mediation that has not even begun yet. We will see what the Judge's rationale is next week, but it appears he is simply making it clear that the Betterments lawsuit can still be a part of the work of the mediator.
Lawrence's PR effort is captained by a disgruntled former priest with a consistent record of Trumpian-like distortions and misstatements of fact.
Episcopalians see silver lining in Judge's decision
The odd thing about the Lawrence group's decision to file a lawsuit under the Betterments law is that it can only be filed if the case from which it was generated is over.
Consequently in their zeal to cash in, Lawrence and the 29 plaintiff congregations appear to have overlooked their admission that their 2013 case against the Church is lost and that they are the losers.
Had Dickson dismissed the Betterments matter, he would also have been throwing out the only official record of the Lawrencians agreeing that their case is over and that they have accepted the 2017 ruling of the state Supreme Court.
July 29, 2019
Divergent Expectations Could Likely Derail Court-Ordered Mediation Before It Starts
Broad Street Attorney Thomas Wills named as mediator
Last week Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson threw up his hands in frustration, and ordered attorneys for the Episcopal Church and 29 dissident congregations and their leadership to mediate their differences on how he should implement its 2017 historic ruling by the state Supreme Court.
In that decision, the justices determined the parish properties of the congregations and the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" all belong to the Church because they are "trustees" of the properties under a Church law known as the Dennis Canon.
Today Charleston attorney Thomas J. Wills was named as the mediator who inherits a nearly seven-year-old case that has proven to be a world-class disaster for the credibility and integrity of the state's judiciary.
The case began in January 2013 with a lawsuit brought by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 congregations, asking the state courts to determine if they were free to leave the Episcopal Church with their parish properties. They also wanted the courts to give them the Church's "Diocese of South Carolina" as well.
A lower court trial judge in 2016 said they could leave with the property, but she was overruled by the state's high court that determined that 29 of the 36, while owned by the local congregations, were held in trust for the Church. The congregants were free to leave the Church, but their property remained. The Diocese of South Carolina also remained part of the Church as well.
In the fall of 2017, the justices assigned their ruling to Dickson to oversee its implementation. Since then Dickson appears to have been sitting on the case, refusing to rule on various motions the lawyers have filed with him. Speculation was that he does not want to disappoint his many friends who are part of local breakaway congregations or his former law firm, which is playing a significant role in the disidents' legal strategy.
Dickson had heard two hours of legal arguments last Tuesday when he suddenly announced that he wanted a mediator to have a crack at it. He did not appear to realize that the parties had been in mediation last year in a related Federal lawsuit in which the breakaway group had largely refused to engage.
He also seemed unaware that the Church had offered to settle the case in 2015, offering to release any claims on the parish properties of the dissidents in exchange for their dropping their claims to own the Diocese of South Carolina. Lawrence and his lead attorney rejected the offer without even asking the congregations.
Dickson's decision to go with a mediator last week felt to the breakaway attorneys like a victory. They have been trying to derail Dickson and delay implementation of the 2017 ruling since it came down. They have also been trounced in recent years in courtroom encounters such that Dickson's ordering mediation last week seemed to be exactly what they needed.
The challenge facing Wills is that Dickson said he wanted "all" the issues in case before him to be mediated. However, the question is, what constitutes "all".
Breakaway attorneys have been arguing that Dickson needed to review whether the Supreme Court justices had been correct in determining which parishes could leave and which would stay. To them, "all" meant all the issues in the high court's ruling that they don't like in addition to the procedural ones involved in Dickson's role as implementer of the ruling.
Church lawyers appear to have no interest in re-opening the original case, and negotiating a new deal. They are assuming a mediator is there to advise the judge on how he is to implement the decision, including ruling on the half-dozen motions before him.
July 23, 2019
The Orangeburg judge, who has sat on the landmark 2017 Supreme Court ruling for nearly two years, today told Church leaders and dissidents to get a mediator to help them figure out how he should move forward
S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson stunned his courtroom this morning by ordering attorneys for the Church and 29 dissident congregations to enter mediation over their differing views on how he should implement the state Supreme Court's historic August 2017 ruling, declaring that the congregations and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belong to the Episcopal Church.
More than twenty months ago, the state's high court gave Dickson the task of implementing the ruling, but strangely he has avoided taking action after complaining he didn't understand the case or what it was the high court expected him to do with it.
Today, Dickson spent two hours listening to a rehashing of two years of multiple filings by the attorneys, including those about the dissidents' nuisance lawsuit in which they say the Church owes them financial reparations for two centuries of improvements to their parish properties.
After a series of exchanges in which the judge at times appeared to be frustrated and overwhelmed, Dickson announced that he wanted the group to get a mediator to help them agree on how he should move forward on all the issues pending before him.
He wasn't especially clear about what he meant by "all" the issues, since the state Supreme Court has already ruled on which congregations could leave the Church, and the ownership of the Diocese, its properties, and financial assets.
There are six pending motions before him that include a request by the Church for an audit of each dissident congregation's finances and property and dismissal of the nuisance lawsuit.
To Dickson's credit, he seems to want the parties in the case to be in agreement with whatever he does with the case to avoid further appeals to a higher court.
Delay and disrupt
Dickson's decision to throw the case to a mediator came out of the blue for lawyers on both sides, but it was clearly a gift for the beleaguered legal team for the dissident group.
If Dickson had done his job, today's hearing could have been the beginning of the end for them. Instead, he has plunged the case once again into the netherworld of judicial delay and public bickering.
The Lawrencians no longer have any chance of overturning a state Supreme Court ruling that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, so they have embarked on a strategy of delay and disruption in its implementation. Even Dickson admitted today that the parties in the case were in for a long haul.
Last year, in a Federal case that parallels the one before Dickson, the breakaways stiff-armed court-appointed mediator, retired U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson and refused to enter into serious negotiations. Breakaway lawyers told Dickson today that Anderson was not qualified as a mediator.
In 2015, the Church offered to settle the entire case by giving the dissident congregations full title to their parish properties, but they rejected even that.
July 20, 2019
Don't Expect Much at 'Betterments' Hearing Tuesday
Orangeburg Judge is doing the bare minimum to make progress implementing the historic 2017 Supreme Court ruling
In asking for reparations, former breakaways concede defeat in 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-bishop and those loyal to him
At long last state Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg is finally doing something about the 2017 ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, declaring 29 former secessionist parishes and the Diocese of South Carolina part of the Episcopal Church.
In the fall of 2017, the justices handed off this landmark decision to Dickson to implement in his capacity as the administrative judge in South Carolina's First Judicial Circuit.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed in 2013 by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and congregations sympathetic to him, asking the state courts to declare them the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets in eastern South Carolina.
It is understandable that Dickson might have waited to do anything with his assignment until last June, when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal of the decision and allowed it to stand.
However, it is hard to see any justification for Dickson's doing almost nothing with it since then. Dickson has held exactly one meeting with the lawyers in the case, and another hour-long gripe session in which lawyers for the former secessionists bashed the Supreme Court's ruling and, in particular, the opinion of Chief Justice Don Beatty.
Earlier this past spring, Dickson scheduled a hearing in the case with only a week's notice, then peevishly cancelled it, reportedly because some of the forty-odd breakaway attorneys didn't let him know if they would be showing up.
Now Dickson has rescheduled the hearing for Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. in St. Matthews, Calhoun County's county seat and part of the First District.
Assuming this hearing goes forward, its entire focus most likely will be on a nuisance lawsuit brought by the one-time breakaways asking for monetary reparations to compensate them for improvements made to Church properties while they occupied them.
We've gotten some information that not all the lawyers on the dissident side are pleased with a legal strategy that is such an obvious ploy to use the courts to obstruct a ruling by the state's Supreme Court, and allowed to stand by the U.S. Supreme Court.
They are also concerned that, in bringing an action under the 'Betterments' statute, former Bishop Lawrence and the 29 congregations are finally admitting defeat in their 2013 lawsuit against the Church.
Under the statute, only a losing party in a case in which all appeals have been completed can request reparations. In shameless effort to keep donations flowing, Lawrence's lieutenants have continued to suggest that their 2013 lawsuit is still active in the courts.
What might happen on Tuesday?
Why it has taken Dickson slow long to get around to this case is anyone's guess. He has complained that the high courts ruling in 2017 is confusing to him and that he does not know what he is expected to do with it. The concept of "Justice Delayed is Justice Denied" does not appear to be a compelling factor in his management of this case.
It is difficult to imagine a legal basis a judge would use to allow the dissidents' Betterments claim to go forward. Dickson's dismissal of the suit would be a sign that he is somewhat serious about moving forward with implementation of the high court's 2017 ruling.
However, the case has been tangled up in judicial politics and conflicts from the very beginning. It is almost certainly the reason it was brought in the largely rural First District where none of the judges have any particular expertise in Church or Trust law. The First District is also a place where powerful politicians and lawyers are rumored to have significant influence over the courts.
Dickson's colleague in the First District is Diane Goodstein, the original trial judge in the breakaways' lawsuit, whose mangling of key issues in her 2016 ruling was at the heart of state's high court overturning it in 2017. There is also some suspicion that her pro-Lawrence ruling and its anti-gay undertones was important in swaying ultra-conservative legislators to support her ultimately unsuccessful effort to land a seat on the state Supreme Court this year.
SC Episcopalians has wondered more than once why Dickson is even handling the case at all, since his former law firm and political supporters are members of the legal team representing the one-time breakaway group. Just sayin'
July 15, 2019
Judge Re-schedules Hearing on Nuisance Lawsuit
New date is 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, July 23rd in St. Matthews
One day after a mild reprimand, S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson announced he'd hold a hearing on a lawsuit by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in their efforts to slow down implementation of the state Supreme Court's August 2017 ruling that 29 parishes loyal to Lawrence - and the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" - belong in the Episcopal Church.
The state's high court assigned Dickson the job of implementing the 2017 decision and overseeing the return of the parishes to the Church (see posting below). The 29 returning parishes are not accepting defeat easily and have joined with Lawrence as plaintiffs in the new lawsuit.
Lawrence & returning parishes lack standing to bring Betterments lawsuit
The lawsuit, which will be the subject of the Dickson's hearing, was brought by the Lawrencians' 40-member legal team under the state'sBetterments Act, an obscure law that allows people who have been mistakenly living on someone else's property to be compensated for improvements they've made before the courts kicked them out.
However, the only people allowed to bring a Betterments lawsuit are defendants on the losing side of a separate property case that has been concluded.
The Lawrence crowd is not really eligible to bring a lawsuit like this because they were the plaintiffs - not defendants - in their 2013 lawsuit against the Church. They also strangely maintain that their case is not closed even though the state and nation's highest courts have ruled against them.
In addition, the 29 former Lawrence congregations have not been mistakenly living on someone else's property, since the Church has never disputed their claim to be the rightful owners of their parish property.
In fact, their 2013 lawsuit against the Church was not a property case at all. It was about South Carolina trust laws ... which are not covered by the Betterments statute.
Incidentally, none of the 29 congregations has been kicked out of its parish property. The Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has gone to great lengths to encourage their members to stay on even as Dickson directs their return.
Gift that keeps on giving
Attorneys for the returning parishes concede privately that the Betterments lawsuit is a "backup plan" concocted by Lawrence's lawyers in the event other schemes to thwart implementation of the 2017 ruling fail. They never actually thought they would have to defend this in front of a judge and look like they've never been to law school.
While the Lawrencians may not have standing to bring a lawsuit under the Betterments statute, it does give about forty high-priced lawyers one more opportunity to soak their former breakaway clients with legal fees for working on a case that was lost two years ago.
July 1, 2019
SC Supreme Court Not Ready to Force Confused Judge to Implement 2017 Decision
Justices "confident" Judge Dickson will act in an "expeditious manner" in implementing ruling without Mandamus order sought by Church lawyers
The South Carolina Supreme Court today rejected a request by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese in eastern South Carolina to issue a "writ of mandamus," ordering S.C. Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson to move forward with implementation of its 2017 ruling against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers.
Last March Church lawyers made the request to the high court after signals from Dickson raised concerns about his commitment to finishing the case. Those signals included an aimless, hour-long hearing in which the Orangeburg judge allowed Lawrencian lawyers to rant against the 2017 ruling and, in particular, the opinion written by Chief Justice Don Beatty. Beatty was the deciding vote in the case.
On two occasions, Dickson told lawyers that he didn't understand what the Supreme Court wanted him to do. He also seemed confused by tactics of the Lawrence's legal team suggesting he was free to retry the nearly-seven year-old case.
The ruling in question is the result of a lawsuit filed by Lawrence and his supporters in January 2013. Lawrence and about 36 congregations loyal to him claimed they were leaving the Episcopal Church and were the rightful owners of an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets.
The state's high court rejected the argument in the 2017 decision, which the Lawrencians unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dickson was assigned the job of implementing the ruling more than a year ago, but has done little with it.
Lawrence and his group left the Church over its inclusion of gays and lesbians, acceptance of women in positions of spiritual authority, and openness to understandings of the Bible inconsistent with their own literal interpretations. Last year Lawrence put a new spin on his reason for leaving, claiming it was all about Sunday School teachers dressing as a man one Sunday and a woman the next.
A Mandamus order (aka "Writ of Mandamus") is a legal device in which a higher court compels a lower court to act on a matter before it. Courts don't really like to use them because they can create adversarial relationships and imply a lack of confidence in a lower court.
Mandamus orders are less frequent in more complex cases, and the decision in the Lawrence matter is complex. Not only does it involve 29 parishes and the Diocesan corporate entity, there are numerous reports of missing Church assets, unauthorized sales of property, and intentionally hidden parish records that were not turned over to the courts during the trial of the Lawrence lawsuit.
There is nothing in the wording of the Order today suggesting that the justices are okay with Dickson's bumbling, nor do they suggest that his job is anything more than enforcing the August 2017 judgement.
The only mysterious part of the high court's Order today is the justices' suggestion that they weren't granting a writ of mandamus since Dickson has already scheduled hearings in the matter.
What hearings are those? The last hearing Dickson scheduled on that matter was more of a venting session last fall. He has scheduled nothing since then.
Was today's ruling a "defeat' for the Church side?
While the justices rejected the request for a writ of mandamus, it is not clear that today's ruling was a defeat for the Church. In fact, it may have been part of clever strategy to have the justices put Dickson on notice to get moving on the case, and stop encouraging the parties in the case to think that he might do something with it other than enforce the 2017 decision.
According to the Order, "we are confident that Respondent (Dickson) will resolve the petition to enforce the judgement, as well as any related matters that are pending, in an expeditious manner." It also made clear that Dickson's job is to enforce the Court's ruling, not retry elements of the case or attempt to reinterpret its decision as Lawrencian lawyers and spin doctors have tried to argue.
The Order was signed by four of the five members of the current Court. Associate Justice Kaye Hearn recused herself.
June 20, 2019(rev. 6/22)
Scandal Brews Over Insurance Company Payments to Former Breakaways in SC
Rumors persist that secessionist groups in other dioceses may have received improper payments from the Church Insurance Company of Vermont as well
Just when you thought things couldn’t get crazier, they did.
The Church Insurance Company of Vermont is asking a Federal court in Charleston to decide if it is obligated to reimburse any of the legal bills incurred by 17 dissident congregations in a lawsuit they and ex-bishop Mark Lawrence brought against the Church in 2012.
CIC-VT filed a complaint with the court on June 14, just three days after the Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a complaint against the insurer, alleging that it was wrongfully reimbursing one-time breakaway congregations for their share of the litigation.
The feud between TECSC and the Church's insurance company emerged a few weeks ago when loyal Episcopalians discovered CIC-VT had made a $111,749 payment to St. Philip's in Charleston to cover some of its legal bills, even though the congregation claims it left the Episcopal Church in 2012.
CIC-VT was created by the Episcopal Church nearly twenty years ago for the limited purpose of insuring its national office, dioceses, and parishes. The Episcopal Church is its parent company, and sole customer. It is not chartered to insure entities beyond those in good standing with the Church.
Insurer throws up its hands and asks Court to sort it out
In their original 2012 lawsuit, Lawrence and congregations loyal to him unsuccessfully attempted to leave the Church with their properties, but succeeded in racking up millions of dollars in legal bills on both sides. The case was settled by the South Carolina Supreme Court in August 2017, and last summer the United States Supreme Court allowed the decision to stand.
The insurer's filing this week did not make clear which among their bills the congregations believe should be reimbursed.
The congregations were covered by valid policies until their announced their decisions to "disaffiliate" with the Church in the fall of 2012. Even if those policies would be considered to be valid by a court, the insurer would only required reimburse legal fees to defend the congregations from lawsuits. All of the congregations named in CIC-VT's complaint were plaintiffs -- not defendants -- in their lawsuit.
In its June 14th filing, CIC-VT does not explain its rationale for apparently exceeding its charter, neither does it explain why its is filing this action now, after already making payments to at least one of the dissident congregations. The filing names the Episcopal Church in South Carolina as a defendant, but it does not appear to be challenging the legitimacy of its claims for reimbursement as it was the defendant in the lawsuit.
Compounding the insurer's woes are rumors SC Episcopalians has heard that it may also have paid claims filed by anti-Church groups in other dioceses.
Was fraud committed by the congregations?
Right now not enough is known to say that former Lawrence congregations committed fraud in filing claims for reimbursement.
At this point even the basis on which the 17 parishes were named as defendants by the insurance company is not exactly clear. We assume they are in there because they are either trying to get money out the insurer or already have.
The congregations in question are ...
Church of the Redeemer, Orangeburg
Old St. Andrews, Charleston
All Saints, Florence
Church of Our Saviour, John's Island
Holy Trinity, Charleston
Church of the Cross, Bluffton
St. Philip's, Charleston
St. John's, John's island
St. Bartholomew's, Hartsville
Church of the Holy Cross, Stateburg
Good Shepherd, Charleston
Holy Comforter, Sumter
St. David's, Cheraw
St. Michael's, Charleston
St. Jude's, Walterboro
Christ Church, Mount Pleasant
June 11, 2011
Episcopal Church in SC Moving Forward with Election of Permanent Diocesan Bishop
Visioning, discernment, & election could take 18-24 months
According to the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina this morning, it has unanimously agreed to move forward with the election of a new permanent Diocesan bishop over the next 18 to 24 months.
The Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, the current provisional Bishop of the Diocese is fully supportive of the move, as is the Office of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Church leaders would not support such an election if they did not feel the Diocese was strong enough to sustain a full-time bishop.
The Diocese has been among the fastest growing in the Church, and its parishes will likely greet this news with enthusiasm. They have been without a permanent leader since Mark J. Lawrence abandoned his ordination vows and the Diocese in 2012. The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg became the provisional leader of the Diocese in January 2013 and served until 2016, when Adams succeeded him.
Both originally agreed to two-year stints in the job, which is the usual length of a provisional bishop’s tenure. While Lawrence left the Church, he has continues to live in the residence of the real Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, and work in his Diocesan headquarters, even though the state’s Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that the “Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Episcopal Church.
Adams plans to leave the job by the end of this year. This means that the Diocese will be getting a third provisional bishop, whose tenure will coincide with the election process for a permanent successor.
June 11, 2019
Episcopal Church in SC Takes Its Own Insurance Company to Court
Lawsuit says reimbursement for legal expenses of former breakaway parishes was “extraordinarily egregious bad faith”by New England-based company
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina filed a lawsuit today against the Church Insurance Company of Vermont (CIC-VT), alleging that the company was secretly reimbursing at least one Lawrence congregation for legal costs in its recent unsuccessful efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with Church property.
The lawsuit suggests that other anti-Church congregations may have received improper payments as well.
CIC-VT holds a master insurance policy for the Episcopal Church, which provides protection for individual dioceses as well. It has covered much of the legal fees of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina since 2012.
The alleged wrongful payments were discovered in a recent Annual Report distributed to the congregation at St. Philip’s in Charleston. That congregation is still under the control of anti-Church leadership even though the state Supreme Court ruled in August 2017 that the parish is part of the Episcopal Church.
The matter came to light when some loyal Episcopalian(s) noticed the following mention of the payments in the Report.
“After spending for TEC legal fees, Loan Amortization, and Capital Expenditures, St. Philip’s incurred a net cash deficit of $79,045. However, roughly half of the TEC Legal Fees were eligible for partial reimbursement from the Church Insurance Co. of Vermont, totaling some $111,749.”
The Diocese maintains that St. Philip's was actively engaged in an extensive effort to defraud the Episcopal Church of its rightful property at the time the legal bills were incurred. Consequently, it argues, CIC-VT was helping drive that effort. The lawsuit also questions whether CIC-VT is even licensed to sell individual policies in South Carolina.
The Church's lawsuit does not name St. Philip's as a defendant in the matter. However, if its leadership knowingly misrepresented the parish to get insurance money, the insurer might consider taking action to recover it.
June 9, 2019
A Collect for Independence Day
Reflecting on how we give thanks for our freedom
-- Recent email by Massachusetts State Rep. Byron Rushing, Vice-President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, guardian of Church history, and a friend of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
July 4th lands on a Thursday this year; I write this for those who will be commemorating Independence Day then or on Sunday, June 30, 2019.
Listen to the words of the Collect (BCP, p.242) for Independence Day July 4th: Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Let me take this opportunity to remind Episcopalians in the United States that many of us do not consider the words--"the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us"--in the Independence Day collect to be accurate. Look around your congregations and reflect if all the ancestors of the "us" among you got their liberty then.
This phrase is only possible because slavery was forgotten by the author—or the “us” was not meant to include me.
A better and approved BCP collect for the 4th is "For the Nation" (p.207 or p.258): Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Also the Canadians’ Canada Day collect (July 1) also works for us in the USA and for all the other countries in which TEC is, on their celebrations of independence: Almighty God, whose wisdom and whose love are over all, accept the prayers we offer for our nation. Give integrity to its citizens and wisdom to those in authority, that harmony and justice may be secured in obedience to your will; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
May 30, 2019
Are We Ready to Elect a New Diocesan Bishop?
Provisional Bishop Adams has served nearly twice as long as his original commitment; Standing Committee is working on selection process without a specific deadline
Skip Adams’ planned retirement as the provisional Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is raising the question of whether the Diocese is now ready to elect its own permanent Diocesan Bishop. This question is weighing heavily on Diocesan leaders, who ultimately will guide the selection of Adams’ successor in consultation with Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.
Standing Committee members met last week without any public comment on progress they might have made on the question. The Diocese has been without a full-time, regularly-elected Diocesan Bishop since former Bishop Mark Lawrence abandoned his ordination vows in 2012, quit the Church, and filed suit against his former flock.
Since that time, the Diocese (temporarily known as “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina) has been led first by former East Tennessee Bishop Charles vonRosenberg followed by Adams in 2016. Both were nominated by presiding bishops after intense consultations with Diocesan leaders. They were then unanimously elected by diocesan conventions.
Provisional vs Diocesan
By definition, a “provincial” bishop is one who is essentially hired for a limited tenure until a diocese can support itself and is ready to move forward with its own elected leaders. They usually come from the ranks ranks of recently retired bishops.
A regularly-elected Diocesan Bishop is elected by a diocesan convention for an undetermined period of time. Every bishop in the Episcopal Church has been elected by the people he or she was called to serve.
Most of the Diocese does not appear to be overly excited at the prospect of a third provisional bishop. While both vonRosenberg and Adams were and are very popular, there is a restlessness among congregations for a new vision with permanent, full-time leader at the helm.
However, the process of electing a permanent Diocesan Bishop in the Episcopal Church can often take as long as two years.
To conduct such an election, a diocese will prepare a profile of itself to give prospective candidates a sense of what it is looking for in a bishop. It will also appoint a search committee to oversee the effort, and that committee will engage in a Church-wide effort to advertise the profile and upcoming election, and then identify potential candidates for consideration. Anyone in the Church can nominate someone.
Eventually, the Standing Committee in consultation with the Search Committee will propose a slate of candidates, usually five or six, whose biographies and faith statements seem to fit the diocesan profile. Those will be circulated to parishes in the diocese. An electing convention (generally an annual Diocesan convention) will then be convened by the retiring bishop or the Standing Committee.
Hardliners rigged the search process when Lawrence was elected
The search process is important to many in this Diocese because it was the means by which hard-line secessionists secured the election of Mark J. Lawrence in 2006 even before the electing convention met.
Lawrence claimed he had no ties to the Diocese, but that was not exactly true as it turned out. In fact, it was the political plotting by anti-Church forces that managed to rig the search process from the get-go. Mainstream Episcopalians did not even have a voice on the search committee. That became obvious when dozens of excellent people were nominated for the job, but were immediately rejected because they did not share the right-wing views of the Search Committee members.
As it turned out, only three men were nominated, and of those two were clearly unacceptable even to the hardliners at the electing Convention.
One of the potential options for finding Bishop Adams' successor might be a kind of hybrid that would combine the permanent and provisional approaches. A new provisional bishop would be elected to follow Adams with his or her mission being the provision of episcopal leadership while overseeing the selection process for a new permanent Diocesan bishop.
This option would allow for a proper search process that would involve the entire diocese, while providing experienced, pastoral leadership in the Bishop's office during that process
April 18, 2019
April 12, 2019
Breakaway Lawyers Defend Confused Judge
Orangeburg judge is right to delay implementing decision, dissidents tell State Supreme Court
Lawyers for former Episcopalians, demanding Church property and financial assets valued in the millions of dollars, returned to the state Supreme Court today to defend the failure of an Orangeburg circuit judge to implement its August 2017 ruling favoring the Church.
Repeating unsuccessful arguments made in other courts, the lawyers argued that the high court's decision was unclear and too confusing to be implemented.
Church attorneys have argued that the ruling was very clear in spelling out which parishes could leave and which were legally bound to the Church. The state court's decision was allowed to stand by the nation's highest court last June, when it rejected an appeal by the breakaway group using the same arguments.
The breakaway group was responding to a motion filed last month by the Church’s legal team asking the justices to force S.C. Judge Edgar Dickson to go forward with implementation of the ruling which decreed that 29 of 36 parishes that wanted to leave with ex-bishop Mark Lawrence belong with the Church.
Is judge's foot-dragging intentional?
Dickson was assigned the job in the fall of 2017 but has shown little interest in doing anything about it. Church attorneys are asking for something called a "writ of mandamus".
Dickson's foot-dragging has played perfectly into the breakaways' strategy of delaying any progress in the case. Today's filing with the high court was largely a re-hashing of rejected arguments they made in 2017, and later to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In meetings with attorneys in the case, Dickson has variously complained that he was too busy with other cases or that he was confused by what the high court expected him to do. The question of whether Dickson is intentionally delaying the case or simply out of his depth is an open one.
For example, last summer, in spite of seven years of litigation, tens of thousands of pages of legal filings, and a weigh-in by the United States Supreme Court, Dickson still felt the need to ask both sides to give him a short list of what they thought he should do. Now, more than nine months later he has done of none of the things requested by either side.
Last fall, the judge held another hearing, apparently to give the dissent side an opportunity to re-try the substance of the case, and attack the opinions of the three justices who voted against them in 2017.
Last month he finally scheduled a hearing on a nuisance lawsuit filed by the breakaway group, only to cancel it abruptly days later after his law clerk reported that all the lawyers in the case apparently didn’t notify him that it was convenient for them. Church lawyers were among those who did respond, but the incident raises the prospect that the judge may be willing to delay the case indefinitely as long as breakaway lawyers are too busy to agree to a convenient time to appear before him.
Delays are hurting both sides
As far as SC Episcopalians can see, this intentional delay strategy is damaging both sides, but especially the remaining breakaway groups that are hesitant to abandon the buildings to which they are laying claim, but increasingly can no longer afford to maintain or operate in them. Many have contingency plans to move to new spaces that have come and gone with each legal delay.
Others that want to remain in their buildings in spite of belonging to the Episcopal Church but do not feel they can move forward with conversations with Episcopal Bishop Skip Adams until the legal status of the buildings is finalized by Dickson.
The impact of the case - now in its seventh year - has had a profound impact on membership and finances in the breakaway congregations. Many are routinely running deficits and postponing capital campaigns to add to or otherwise improve their declining buildings and campuses.
Continued news coverage of the case is a reminder that the dissidents left the Church because of its inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians as regular people, its equal treatment of men and women in leadership roles, and its failure to reject understandings of Holy Scripture inconsistent with their own narrow literal interpretations.
(Statement of the breakaway group not yet available)
March 26, 2019
The following was received this morning from Judge Edgar Dickson's law clerk: "Good morning. The Court sent a hearing date of March 27, 2019 at 10:00 am. However, we did not receive any confirmation that the hearing date and time was acceptable to a majority of the parties. Since we did not hear back from counsels and since we are unable to get a court reporter, the hearing is cancelled and will be rescheduled at a later date. Thank you for your time in this matter. Additionally, please tell your clients that the hearing has been cancelled. We would hate for them to drive all the way to Orangeburg and there is not going to be a hearing."
March 25, 2019
Orangeburg Judge Likely to Rule on Nuisance LawsuitWednesday
Church attorneys have asked him to dismiss the case as irrelevant since there is no dispute over who owns the parish properties
The circuit court judge charged with implementing the state Supreme Court’s 2017 rejection of a lawsuit by former Bishop Mark Lawrence has scheduled a hearing Wednesday on a nuisance lawsuit brought by lawyers for dissident congregations affiliated with him.
The speculation is that is that S.C. Judge Edgar Dickson is convening the hearing to rule on the Church’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by breakaway lawyers under the state's obscure “betterments” statute, seeking compensation for parish properties and assets they were not awarded as a result of the losing their case in 2017.
According to the state Supreme Court, the 29 parishes are and have always been part of the Episcopal Church. Seven parishes were allowed to leave the Church, after the justices determined that there was no "written" evidence that they agreed to be governed by the Church's Constitution & Canons.
Betterments laws are intended to provide compensation to people who create improvements on properties they mistakenly believed they own.
In South Carolina, only defendants on the losing side of a legal action can ask for compensation, and they must argue convincingly that they didn't know they did not own the property in question.
On both counts, the breakaways' positions don't hold water.
First off, they were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit through which they claim they found out they did not own the property. In other words, they lack the legal standing to bring a betterments lawsuit, which is sufficient grounds on which a judge can dismiss it. That's why SC Episcopalians describes it as a nuisance. as its only purpose appears to be to further delay implementation of the high court ruling.
Secondly, neither the Church nor the Supreme Court is arguing that the congregations don’t own the properties in question. The high court's August 2017 decision is not about who owns the parish properties in question… but whether they are operating them in trust for the benefit of the Episcopal Church.
This is something Lawrence's attorneys have known since the get-go. In the Episcopal Church, congregations hold parish properties in trust for the benefit of the Church. When the Lawrence congregations voted to sever all ties with the Church in November 2012, they effectively violated their obligations as trustees of these properties and were no longer entitled to occupy the buildings.
Judge Dickson has before him a motion from Church attorneys to reject the betterments lawsuit and get on with implementing the court decision. All sides in the case have filed their arguments on the matter with Judge Dickson so there should be no reason to think this aspect of the case will drag out.
Ironically, the Church does appear to have standing to bring a betterments case against the seven breakaway parishes that were allowed to leave. The Church was the defendant in the Lawrence lawsuit and "mistakenly" believed they were being held in trust for the Church and Episcopalians.
March 20, 2019
Church Asks State Supreme Court to Force Circuit Judge to Implement its August 2017 Ruling
Breakaway congregations repeatedly rebuffed Bishop Adams' attempts to negotiate a mutually advantageous resolution
Their patience worn out, the Episcopal Church and its Diocese in eastern South Carolina have asked the state’s Supreme Court to order Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg to implement its August 2017 decision, declaring that 29 parishes once-loyal to breakaway Bishop Mark Lawrence belong to the Church.
The justices had sent their ruling to Dickson nearly a year-and-a-half ago, but he has given no indication that he is even working on the matter. Judge Dickson had two somewhat aimless sessions with the lawyers from both sides last year, but has since given no indication that he’s even thought about the case.
During one of those sessions, Dickson made it clear he didn’t know what he was supposed to do with the assignment and even asked the lawyers for their suggestions.
In the other session, he appeared to want to retry the case, even allowing the breakaways’ lead attorney to present his arguments for overturning the court ruling. The attorney, Alan Runyan, also was allow as much time as he wanted to attack the opinions of the three justices who voted in the majority, with a particular aggressiveness toward that of Chief Justice Don Beatty. Ironically, it was Beatty’s opinion that kept the Church from winning a complete victory.
Read official announcement by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. (Response by Bishop Lawrence will be published when it is available)
In the view of SC Episcopalians, the high court should reassign the case to a more credible judge. Not only has Dickson stated publicly that he has no idea what he is doing, he formerly practiced law with the most politically influential law firms Lawrence has retained to help with the case.
Attorneys for the Church and the local diocese did not offer any explanation why they chose this time to file their request. There have been reports of some of the Lawrence congregations taking things out of their church buildings, failing to maintain the buildings, and using the buildings to borrow money. Most have had financial troubles since trying to leave the Church with Lawrence
The leader of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams, has tried repeatedly to engage dissident congregations in dialogue to explore their futures either in or outside the Church. His last such attempt was Saturday in Florence where only seven members of breakaway congregations showed up.
February 13, 2019
Sluggish Federal Court May Be Waking Up
It took eight years for the San Joaquin case to be resolved by the courts and Church property transferred back to its rightful owners. South Carolina is just beginning its seventh year.
Slightly more than six years after it was filed, the Federal case of "false advertising" against former SC bishop Mark Lawrence may finally get its day in court. VonRosenberg v. Lawrence is a lawsuit claiming that the breakaway cleric is impersonating an Episcopal Church bishop even though he left the Church in late 2012.
The case is focused on the corporate "marks" of the legitimate Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that Lawrence insists he -- not the Church's duly elected bishop -- leads. If you are scratching your head over what that means, consider that the real purpose of the case is to decide who is the legitimate owner of the corporate entity known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."
The case was scheduled to be heard next month, but we learned today it has been rescheduled for May. Courts don't have to explain these things, but we think the fact that both sides have told the judge they are willing to forgo a trial and have him rule directly is probably the reason.
The case was originally assigned to the late Federal Judge Weston Houck in Charleston in April 2013, but he refused to hear it until a seemingly related case in state court was resolved. That state case was resolved in August 2017 and, after several miscues following Houck's death, the Federal case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
The legal momentum behind the case is clearly with the Church.
The courts in California ruled in a similar schism in Lawrence's home diocese of San Joaquin that the breakaways' claim to owning a diocese of the Episcopal Church was ludicrous. Several years ago, Gergel's colleague, Federal Judge Michael Duffy ruled in a related insurance case that the Diocese led by then-Bishop Charles vonRosenberg was, in fact, the legitimate "Diocese of South Carolina."
However, the most immediate cause for worry for Lawrence and his crowd is that the South Carolina Supreme Court believes the corporate "Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Church. In their August 2017 decision, the justices ruled that only seven parishes of the 36 plaintiff parishes in that lawsuit could leave the Church with their properties, leaving it to the Federal court to oversee the disposition of the corporate entity.
Beyond a shared fear of gays, lesbians, and women in positions of spiritual authority, ACNA's African founders rarely seem happy with their American and Canadian proxies
The struggle between out-sized egos that lead ultraconservative provinces of the Anglican Communion and their western offspring has erupted again. This time it’s the Anglican Church of Nigeria apparently clashing with the leadership of its American protégé, the so-called Anglican Church of North America (ACNA).
Last month Nigerian Primate Nicholas Okoh and his College of Bishops announced the appointment of four new missionary bishops in the United States and Canada to operate independently of the Nigerians’ already-established missionary presence.
The move was an apparent snub to Foley Beach, the leader of ACNA and its Anglican primatial look-a-like. Read full story
Can Lawrence's crumbling parishes afford his promise of years of litigation? Latest filings in Federal court little more than a cutting-and-pasting of rejected legal arguments and debunked half-truths.
Last month lawyers for what remains of the Mark Lawrence breakaway organization unloaded 38 motions on Federal Judge Richard Gergel as part of a request for summary judgment in the six-year-old "false advertising" lawsuit facing former Bishop Mark Lawrence. They contained little more than a rehashing of silly ideas without a factual grounding and old legal arguments that have been rejected by other courts.
The avalanche of meaningless filings with Gergel is more evidence the Lawrencians have abandoned any real hope of reversing the state Supreme Court's August 2017 ruling in the Church's favor. Read more
December 13, 2018(rev. 12-15-18)
Lawyers' Lukewarm Defense of Lawrence's "False Advertising" Offers Nothing New, Ignores Courtroom Defeats
At the heart of the case is ownership of the corporate entity, known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina"... and, uh, yes that same question has already been decided by Federal Courts, and the State and U.S Supreme courts. Read on.
December 6, 2018
Tear It Down! Anxiety Rises Among Lawrence Clergy as Reality Closes In
St. Philip's clergyman prays God will destroy historic St. Philip's rather than allowing false gospel Episcopalians to continue to own it
As if it was needed, last month St. Philip's in Charleston gave us yet one more insight into why the Mark Lawrence schism is in shambles. It also helped us understand how the historic "mother church" of Anglicanism in South Carolina has lost more than half its membership since Lawrence became Bishop of South Carolina in 2008. Read full story here.
The Vestry of St. Jude's Episcopal Church in Walterboro is apparently moving forward with the sale of what it calls "miscellaneous property" in spite of a 2017 ruling by the state Supreme Court that it has no authority to dispose of any property without the consent of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
Thumbing its nose at the high court, the vestry told the members of the congregation this week that it is moving ahead with plans to offer the properties for sale ... and, if they need anyone's consent, they will get it from ex-bishop Mark Lawrence's breakaway organization.
"Parish Property Sale - Charles Lucas recommended that certain miscellaneous properties owned by the Church be offered as a bundle for a price of $29,900 with a hope to receive possibly $15,000‑$20,000. The Vestry agreed to send a letter to the Diocese to seek permission if any is needed. The Vestry approved a motion to adopt the recommendation with the limitation that St. Jude's would only give a limited warranty deed." Read the full story
The Episcopal Church, its continuing Diocese in South Carolina (TECSC) and those representing Mark Lawrence and parishes once aligned with him are heading to court tomorrow in Orangeburg to make oral arguments before state Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson, who's been charged by the state Supreme Court with implementation of its August 2017 decision declaring that 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher are part of the Episcopal Church.
November 9, 2018
Mission Accomplished: The extraordinary journey of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina comes to an end as its legacy lives on
With the same thoughtful, dignified, and hopeful tone with which it began 15 years ago, the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina announced today that its work is done. In a letter to EFSC members, President Warren Mersereau reported that the organization was closing its doors, and transferring the remaining $2200 balance in its bank account to the Episcopal Church of South Carolina. Read more
October 23, 2018
Judge Schedules Hearing on Implementation of Supreme Court Ruling for November 19th
First Judicial Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson of Orangeburg will preside over what many believe will be beginning of the end for ex-Bishop Lawrence's schism. SC Episcopalians will be there and posting all the latest news as it happens.
October 22, 2018
No Word on Hearing by Orangeburg Judge Charged with Implementing Supreme Court Ruling
South Carolina's judicial system continues to get a failing grade for its incompetent handling of the January 2013 lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence.
First Judicial Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson was charged by the state Supreme Court with implementing its largely pro-Episcopal Church ruling in the case nearly a year ago... and has not even held a hearing. Last August he told lawyers on both sides that he would schedule a hearing on the case before the end of October, but so far nothing is scheduled.
October 16, 2018
Lawrencians Throw Everything plus Kitchen Sink at Judge Hoping to Force Re-Opening of 2013 Lawsuit
In court filings today in Orangeburg, breakaway lawyers continued to bash the state's 2017 Supreme Court ruling, while furiously battling the Church's request for a full accounting of Diocesan and parish finances.
October 11, 2018
Bishop Adams, Diocesan Leaders Take to Facebook to Talk Reconciliation & Legal Cases
South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams and his leadership team took to social media tonight to ramp up their reconciliation efforts with followers of former Bishop Mark Lawrence, while offering insights into his vision for The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Read more.
September 24, 2018
Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson has only been authorized to implement the August 2017 state Supreme Court decision that ended Mark Lawrence's aborted schism, but that has not stopped breakaway lawyers from pummeling the Orangeburg jurist with demands that he overturn key parts of the decision.
In routine filings in Dickson's court today, Lawrence's lead attorney Alan Runyan continued his attacks on the Court majority, using quotes from the opinions of the losing side to hammer away at what he argues is a ruling that is too vague to be enforced. Read full story.
In 2015, his colleague rendered one of the most reckless and costly decisions ever handed down in the state's First Judicial District, so perhaps Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson should not be cussed too much for being painfully careful in implementing the state Supreme Court's 13-month-old decision in Lawrence's lawsuit.
August 8, 2018
Lawrence's Last Hurrah Tour Leaves Followers with Confusion about the Future, & Blame for Everyone Else
Rambling commentary touches on 2015 settlement offer, revisionist history, human genitalia, and questionable legal advice
August 3, 2018
Church, Breakaway Attorneys Lay Out Concerns over Implementation of S.C. Supreme Court Decision
Judge had asked them to come up with a list of their expectations for his work ahead; Each list reflected positions taken in prior filings
Part III (Aug 2):
Lawrence Plays the Victim Card
In Walterboro former SC bishop demonizes Church leaders, refuses to admit any blame, then urges his supporters to raise money for lawyers. He appears to be more aware of his own legal culpability than in the past.
Adams Actually Tried to Help Nearly Insolvent Breakaway Parish in Binghamton Buy its Building
Lawrence is trying to smear Bishop Adams during his tour by exploiting the sale of a vacant parish building in Adams' former Diocese ten years ago. Court records shows Judge was infuriated by financial irregularities and apparent hiding of assets when controversial rector was in charge.
Even Lawrence loyalists are confused over his insistence the lawsuit is still alive; His high command still can't prove there was ever any threat to the Diocese from the wider Church (This link takes you to our July 1st response to each FAQ)
July 20, 2018
Lawrence's Allies Lash Out at Reconciliation Initiative
Letter from Peter Moore is one of the milder attacks; SC Episcopalians offers comments on anti-Muslim prejudice, GAFCON, Sin, Anglican Jesuses, Matt Kennedy, and much more
July 18, 2018
Bishop Adams Upbeat about Reconciliation Initiative after Meetings in Conway, Bluffton, & Charleston
'Three Conversations' to help heal broken Diocese were well-attended and productive, in spite of pharisees' efforts to undermine him
July 11, 2018
Church Attorneys Demand Full Accounting, Audits of Lawrence Organization & Parishes
Worst kept secret of the Lawrence schism was that its leaders were attempting to hide assets from the courts in the event secession effort failed; Judge sets July 26 for status conference in the case
June 28, 2018
Three Charleston parishes have lost half their members, but still say they'll continue fighting the Courts and the Church. Wardens at St. Michael's, St. Phillip's, & St. Luke & St. Paul blow off S.C. and U.S. Supreme Courts: "We have a far different perspective."
June 19, 2018
Despite Unprecedented Deficit, High Flying Lawrence and Guests are Jerusalem-bound
Out of control spending suggests Lawrence knows the party's over; Breakaways won't say who's paying for last hurrah with GAFCON
June 19, 2018
Lawrence Team Struggles with Unreality as Church Presses Forward for Implementation of 2017 Ruling
In spite of rejections from the South Carolina and United States Supreme Courts, Lawrence still "confident that the law and the facts of this case favor our congregations."
Diocesan Chancellor says focus now shifts back to Dorchester County for implementation of Court ruling
June 11, 2018
Part I: Supreme Court Rejects Appeal
Without comment, Justices leave South Carolina's pro-Church Supreme Court ruling intact; From near death in 2009, Church's Dennis Canon is now the law in South Carolina
Part II: Angry Lawrence Promises to Fight Implementation of the Court Ruling
Stung by back-to-back losses, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence rejects the August 2017 ruling of the state's Supreme Court and plans to fight its implementation in the Dorchester County court.
April 17, 2018
Judge Expands False Advertising Case to Include 54 Pro-Lawrence Parishes & Trustees as Defendants
In January 2013, hubris led the attorneys for ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence to make a foolish blunder in their legal strategy to leave the Episcopal Church. Today, it came back to haunt them in spades.
April 5, 2018
Texas Appeals Court Finds in Favor of Episcopal Church and its Diocese in Fort Worth
If it is possible that another schism in another diocese could be more bitter and more of a mess than ours, it would be in the Diocese of Fort Worth. Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's comments on the decision
Today loyal Episcopalians got long awaited good news as an appeals court in Fort Worth reversed a lower court ruling favoring the breakaway cousins of our former bishop, Mark Lawrence, making it clear that they own their own Diocese and its property.
Read the full story
Earlier Postings in 2018
Episcopal Church Moves to Consolidate Schism
Issues in Pending Federal False Advertising Case
March 1, 2018
March 1, 2018
Annual Meeting of Breakaway Group Promises
Heartache and Delusion
February 22, 2018
Smoking Gun Shows Lawerence
Still Putting His "War" against the Church Ahead of Best Interests of his Parishes
February 21, 2018
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South Carolina Episcopalians
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