Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 3
April 26 1940
In Re: Appeal Willard L. Hadsell
Digest of Case
A member of an Annual Conference located under the provisions of the 1932 Discipline (Methodist Episcopal Church), although he may have been improperly deprived of his right to be heard when his Annual Conference was considering the report of the Conference Relations Committee on his case, but who thereafter defied the action of the Conference by continuing to preach in a charge where previously appointed, thereby forfeits his right of appeal. A member may forfeit his right of appeal by contumacious treatment of the Church and its authority.
Statement of Facts
This case involves the location under Paragraph 188, Section 2, of the 1932 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, of W. L. Hadsell of the Nebraska Conference. By the unanimous action of the Cabinet of the Nebraska Conference on March 5, 1935, the Appellant was requested to request location. He refused. After a hearing on September 13, 1935, before the Committee on Conference Relations, at which the Appellant was present and participated and in which he was given full opportunity to be heard, the Committee unanimously voted to recommend his location and so reported to the Nebraska Conference presided over by Bishop Frederick D. Leete. At the time of the consideration of the Report by the Annual Conference on September 14, 1935, the presiding Bishop, for some reason not satisfactorily explained to this Court, refused to permit the Appellant to be heard in his own behalf. The Report was adopted by the Conference by a vote of 162 to 81 and the Appellant was thereby located. On March 10, 1936, nearly six months thereafter, the following appeal was filed: "I respectfully notify the Nebraska Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church that I hereby appeal to a Judicial Conference from the actions of the Nebraska Annual Conference Executive Session held at Omaha, Nebraska, on September 14, 1935, locating me under Paragraph 188, Section 2." Commissioners were thereafter appointed to hear certain evidence as to the conduct of the Appellant after his location. A Judicial Conference was duly called and held April 6, 1937, at which the appeal of the Appellant was considered after which by a vote of 8 to 7 the Appellant's appeal was dismissed, from which dismissal the Appellant has properly appealed to this Court, it being in accordance with Paragraph 1624 of the 1939 Discipline, an appeal from one of the Uniting Churches which remained undetermined at the time of the Uniting Conference.
We find that the Appellant was improperly deprived of his right to be heard in his Annual Conference when the report of the Conference Relations Committee was being considered. If the case depended on that factor alone we would order the Report of the Conference Relations Committee remanded to the Nebraska Conference for further consideration. We must, however, find that by the Appellant's own actions and by his own neglect since the time of his location, that he has forfeited any right to relief. Paragraph 897, Section 11, of the 1936 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church provides that in all cases of appeal the Appellant shall furnish a written statement of the grounds of his appeal, and the hearing in the Appellate Court shall be limited to the grounds set forth in such statement. The Appellant did not comply with any of the requirements of this section. He merely "appealed." This may seem technical, but judicial procedure as set forth in the Discipline is necessarily technical and must be complied with in order to protect both the interests of the parties involved, and the Church. The General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1936 adopted a report of the Judiciary Committee (Report No. 9, Appeal of A. H. Magee, found on page 459 of the General Conference Journal of 1936), in which an appeal was dismissed because the Appellant failed to furnish a written statement of the grounds of his appeal. Of greater importance, however, than this failure to even attempt to comply with the provisions set forth in the Discipline, is the deliberate and open misconduct of the Appellant in directly defying the action of the Nebraska Conference in locating him and in his continuing to remain and preach at the Jamaica Charge where he had previously been appointed. He was located September 14, 1935. A new appointment had been made to the Jamaica Charge. The Appellant, with the approval of the local church, continued to preach there. The local church refused to accept the new appointee. On September 27, 1935, the Appellant's District Superintendent notified him in writing that he was not an Accepted Supply Pastor, that he had not been appointed to the Jamaica Charge, that he was violating the order and Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church in continuing to hold services in that church and that if he persisted in holding services he would be subject to judicial procedure. Notwithstanding this notification the Appellant openly, publicly, and defiantly continued to preach and hold services in the Jamaica Church for a period of one and a half years. This conduct was clearly such that he has thereby forfeited his right to appeal. Paragraph 897, Section 4, of the 1936 Discipline provides that "in no case shall an appeal operate as a suspension of sentence." Paragraph 897, Section 1, of the 1936 Discipline provides that "Appeals regularly taken, shall be heard by the proper Appellate Court unless it shall appear to said Court that the Appellant has forfeited his right to appeal by misconduct, such as refusal to abide by the findings of the Committee on Investigation or of the Trial Court." In Merrill's Digest of the Religious Law 256-257, it states: >"A member mayforfeit his right of appeal by contumacious treatment of the Church and its authority." "No one can use the Discipline of the Church, occupying the time of those charged with its administration, without at least professing to be loyal and submissive to its authority." In Report No. 44 of the Committee on Judiciary of the Methodist Episcopal Church we find in the General Conference Journal of 1932, pages 629 and 630, the case of Guy Willis Holmes, where a Judicial Conference had voted that the Appellant had forfeited his right to appeal by his refusal to abide by the findings of the Trial Court and continuing to preach. The Committee on Judiciary ruled that ruling was in accordance with the law of the Church, and that Report was adopted by the General Conference. The action of the Appellant in continuing to preach after location, in defiance of the Church, is contumacious treatment of the Church and its authority and constitutes such gross and open disobedience of the action of the Annual Conference that he has thereby forfeited any right he might have had to appeal. His appeal is therefore dismissed. All members concur except M. A. Childers, dissenting. April 27, 1940. Dissenting Decision of M. A. Childers I concur with my colleagues in the following expression set forth in the opinion of the majority of the Judicial Council filed herein: "We find that the Appellant was improperly deprived of his right to be heard in his Annual Conference when the report of the Conference Relations Committee was being considered. If the case depended on that factor alone we would order the Report of the Conference Relations Committee remanded to the Nebraska Annual Conference for further consideration." Under my interpretation of the law the question of what disposition should be made of his appeal does depend alone upon that factor; hence I cannot concur with them in holding that, by failure to set out the grounds of his appeal in connection with his notice of appeal, and by reason of his subsequent failure to abide by the action of the Annual Conference, he forfeited his rights of appeal. The holding set forth in the majority opinion is based upon subdivisions or sections 1 and 11 of Paragraph 322, page 273, of the 1932 Discipline of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which reads as follows: "1. An appeal shall not be allowed in any case in which the accused has failed or refused to be present in person or by counsel at his trial. Appeals, regularly taken, shall be heard by the proper Appellate Court, unless it shall appear to the said Court that the Appellant has forfeited his right to appeal by misconduct, such as refusal to abide by the findings of the Committee of Investigation, or the Trial Court, or withdrawal from the Church, or failure to appear in person or by counsel to prosecute the appeal, or prior to the final decision on appeal from his conviction resorting to suit in the Civil Courts against the Complainant or any of the parties connected with the Ecclesiastical Court in which he was tried." "11. In all cases of appeal the Appellant, at the time he gives notice of his appeal, shall furnish to the officer receiving such notice, and to the counsel for the Church, a written statement of the grounds of his appeal and the hearing in the Appellate Court shall be limited to the grounds set forth in such statement." In my opinion, these provisions with reference to appeals did not apply in the case of an appeal from the action of an Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in locating one of its Ministerial members under the "Involuntary Location" proceedings authorized by Paragraph 188 of the 1932 Discipline, and Paragraph 505 of the 1936 Discipline, for the reasons hereinafter set forth. "(Involuntary Location)" takes away from a minister his right to "exercise his ministerial office," one of the most precious rights in all the relationships of the Church. Conceding that by a strict construction of the above mentioned Paragraph, under which said right may be taken away from a minister without his consent, was constitutional, reason and justice both dictate that its very provision should be strictly complied with. In this case the orderly procedure broke down at a vital point. It required action by the Annual Conference on the Report of the Committee on Conference Relations before location could become effective. Such a Report was subject to debate, for it was the action of the Annual Conference, and not that of the Committee, which deprived a minister of his right to exercise his ministerial office. It is admitted that when this Report was before the Annual Conference a representative for the Cabinet, and another f or the Committee on Conference Relations appeared, and that at least one of them "gave information" to the Conference regarding the matter on which the Cabinet and the Committee had based their actions. It is also admitted that the Appellant sought to present his side of the matter to the Conference, but that he was denied the right to be heard, and that the Annual Conference voted upon the Committee Report without Appellant's side of the controversy ever having been presented. My colleagues concede this to be reversible error. It was such error. It was the depriving of this minister of one of the most important of all human rights, that is, the right to be heard by the tribunal that was about to deprive him of the office of minister one of the most precious relations in the Church of God. This was not a trial as guaranteed by the Constitution. If the orderly procedure under this statute could be construed as a trial it broke down in its application in this case at the most crucial point, that is at the point where, in a trial, the accused would have the right to be heard by the tribunal trying him. Such violation of the fundamental rights of a minister is no more to be condoned than the contumacious conduct of such minister in refusing to abide by the decision of the tribunal which had thus denied him his fundamental rights. Third-Subdivisions of Sections I and 11, Paragraph 322 of the 1932 Discipline, hereinbefore quoted, at best were limitations upon the constitutional right of appeal. They appeared under the heading "Judicial Administration," and according to their own terms were a part of the law of the Church relating to charges, Investigating Committees, Trials, Trial Courts, etc. "Involuntary Location," however, appeared under an entirely different heading or division of the Discipline, viz.: "Membership in the AnnualConference." Furthermore this "Involuntary Location" proceeding had its own provision for appeal, and that without limitation or restriction. Section (6) of Paragraph 505, 1936 Discipline, reads as follows: "6. A preacher located under the provisions of this Paragraph shall have the right to appeal to a Judicial Conference within six months after such location." Paragraph 188 of the 1932 Discipline contained the following: "He shall have the right to appeal within six months to a Judicial Conference." Thus the right of appeal from an involuntary location was absolute, except as to the time in which it was required to be taken, and no provision was made for it to be forfeited by misconduct thereafter. Nor was there any provision designating any particular form for the appeal or requiring any particular statement of the grounds of appeal. If the General Conference had desired such limitations and restrictions to be placed upon the appeal of a minister from the action of an Annual Conference in locating him, it could have enacted such provisions and made them to so apply, subject to the Constitutional provisions guaranteeing to every Minister the right of trial and appeal. (Section 5, Paragraph 90, 1936 Discipline.) Apparently it did not do so. Therefore in so applying them in this appeal the Judicial Council may be doing by judicial construction that which the General Conference failed to do by specific legislation. I am unwilling to take that chance when by remanding the Report of the Committee to the Annual Conference for further consideration the Church can correct its own admitted error and relieve itself of all possible grounds for censure in this respect, without losing its right to deal with the Appellant in the light of his conduct both before and subsequent to his location. Even if there might be an inference that the General Conference intended to make such limitations apply in "involuntary location" proceedings, it is doubtful if a limitation upon a constitutional right should be given any standing by inference in the absence of specific legislation clearly and unequivocally making it so to apply. It follows, therefore, as a logical conclusion, that Appellant's appeal should have been heard by the Judicial Conference, and that because of the denial to the Appellant of his fundamental right to be heard by the tribunal which deprived him of his ministerial office, the judgment of the Annual Conference in locating the Appellant should have been reversed, and the Report of the Committee on Conference Relations remanded to the Nebraska Annual Conference for further consideration. The Judicial Conference having failed to hear the appeal and remand the Report, such action, in my judgment, should now be taken by the Judicial Council. However, let it be understood that I am not condoning in the least the conduct of Appellant in refusing to abide by the action of the Annual Conference. The Church, however, is not left without protection in this respect. If it be true, as alleged, and which seems practically to have been admitted, that he has been guilty of contumacy, and has failed to abide by the action of the Annual Conference in locating him, or if he has been guilty of any other misconduct, such can, and no doubt would be made known in the reconsideration of the matter by the Annual Conference, and appropriate action taken. If Appellant has any explanation in defense of, or in extenuation of, his conduct subsequent to the action of the Annual Conference, or in reply to the matters relied upon for his location in the first instance, he could present the same. The Annual Conference, then, could act with full knowledge in the premises, and could protect every right both of the Church and of the Appellant. Such, I believe, would be the proper course in disposing of this appeal.