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Decision No. 116

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July 28 1955
In Re: Appeal of Reverend L. Blake Craft in the Case of North Georgia Annual Conference vs. the Reverend L. Blake Craft

Digest of Case

The Judicial Council has jurisdiction only on questions of law. The charges against appellant, though meager, are sufficient to inform him of the offense with which he is charged. The charges having been made during the session of the Annual Conference the accused was triable under Paragraphs 936 and 937 of the 1952 Discipline, and not under Paragraph 935 of the 1952 Discipline. Five days were given the accused to prepare for trial. As a matter of law that cannot be held to be insufficient time. Par. 1006 of the 1952 Discipline establishes a policy that the counsel for the accused must be a traveling preacher. By inference the assistant counsel provided in Par. 1007, 1952 Discipline must be a traveling preacher. The trial having been conducted substantially in accordance with the provisions of the Discipline, the judgments of the Trial Court and of the Court of Appeals are in all things affirmed.

Statement of Facts

Basis of the Appeal and Statement Relating to the Issues of Law Involved At the 1954 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference complaints regarding the conduct of Reverend L. Blake Craft, an Elder in the North Georgia Annual Conference of The Methodist Church having been called to the attention of the Conference Committee of Investigation, the Committee met during that session of the Conference. On June 23, 1954 the Committee of Investigation made the following report to the Annual Conference: "In reporting the case of the Reverend L. Blake Craft, an Elder in the North Georgia Conference, for trial, we present the following bill of charges and specifications; we deem that the accused is liable for trial according to the 1952 Discipline of The Methodist Church, Paragraph 921. (a) Unchristian tempers, words or actions. (b) Disobedience to the order and Discipline of the Church. (c) Imprudent or unministerial conduct. "Specifications: (1) The Reverend L. Blake Craft publishes a paper One Methodist Voice. (2) It is not a parish paper, nor a paper to aid ministers in the conduct of their work. It injures the effectiveness of the work of his own ministry, hampers the work of fellow ministers and damages the good name of The Methodist Church. (3) The paper is not distributed to subscribers only, but is sent out by subsidy as propaganda to both ministers and laymen. (4) There is evidence to the effect that the accused has violated the vows of his ordination." The accused claims as a matter of law this Report did not and does not constitute a charge against him on which he could be legally put to trial; that at most it only constituted an announcement that he "was liable to trial" but did not constitute a CHARGE on which he could be put to trial. The Conference then proceeded as provided in Paragraphs 936-937 of the 1952 Discipline, to put the accused to trial, and a session for organizing the Trial Court was ordered for that afternoon; and a motion was made and carried that the trial be completed at that session of the Conference unless the Court brings some reason why it should not be done. At the convening of the Trial Court that afternoon the accused asked for sufficient time to prepare for trial and stated that his counsel, a member of another Annual Conference, could not be present until the following week because he had just moved to his new appointment. A jury was selected, but the actual trial was postponed for five days, the record with reference to such postponement, as set forth in the Conference minutes, reading as follows: "By agreement between the accused, the counsel for the Church, and the Presider and with the unanimous expressed concurrence of the members of the Trial Court, the time of trial was set for Tuesday, June 29, 1954, at ten o'clock in the morning." At this first meeting of the Trial Court the accused repeated the statement be had made in the Annual Conference, that he would act as his own counsel until his Counsel could be present, and asked permission for a layman to act as assistant counsel, citing Paragraph 1007 of the 1952 Discipline as authority therefor. The trial Judge refused the request for a layman to act as assistant Counsel. The accused then did act as his own counsel in interrogating the prospective jurors and exercised the challenges authorized by law. The accused claims that as a matter of law his having to participate in the selection of the jury without aid of counsel was reversible error; that the refusal by the trial Judge to allow a layman to act as assistant counsel was an error of law entitling him to a new trial. The accused also contends that he was entitled to the ten days' notice required under Paragraph 935, 1952 Discipline and that the putting him to trial was an error of law entitling him to a reversal of the final judgment imposed on him at the conclusion of the trial. The trial was resumed on the date agreed upon, and on July 8, 1954 the jury brought in the following verdict: "Verdict "Under the charges set forth by the Committee of Investigations of the North Georgia Conference, under Paragraph 921, section (a), (b) and (c), Discipline 1952, we' find the defendant, Rev. L. Blake Craft, guilty of the following charges: "1. Section (a) Paragraph 921, 1952 Discipline 'unchristian tempers, words or actions.) "2. Section (c) Paragraph 921. 1952 Discipline 'imprudent and unministerial conduct.' "We specify his use of 'One Methodist Voice' as a means to personally attack his brother ministers, to discredit the leadership of his Conference, and to confuse the laymen of the Church, creating doubt in their minds by the dissemination of inflammatory writings. "We point out that the guilt is substantiated by various and sundry evidence given during the trial. "PENALTY: We specify the penalty to be suspension from the exercise of the functions of his office, effective from this date to continue until the opening date of the Annual Conference of the North Georgia Conference in the year 1955." The accused attacks the validity of this, as will be shown later. The case was timely appealed to the Court of Appeals of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The Methodist Church, and is now before the Judicial Council on an appeal based on alleged errors of law, as set forth in appellants brief filed herein: "An Appeal from the Findings of the Trial Court and from the Decision of the Appellate Court in the Case of the North Georgia Conference versus the Reverend Blake Craft" "Appeal "We respectfully petition the Judicial Council of The Methodist Church to decide the following questions of law: "1. The Charges " (1) Do the bill of charges and specifications comply with the law of the Church? " (2) Did the President of the trial court err in failing to sustain the motion of the accused for dismissal on the grounds that the bill of charges and specifications were faulty and fatally defective in that they did not comply with the law of the Church as outlined and prescribed in Paragraphs 1002 and 1005, 1952 Discipline? "2. The Verdict "Did the jury of the trial court in its reported verdict commit an error by not complying with the law of the Church in Paragraph 1002, in failing to show what its findings were upon the four (4) specifications in the bill of charges on which the accused was brought to trial; and substituting therefor its own created three (3) specifications which have no basis in the original specifications, and, thus finding the accused guilty of them? "3. Did the Presiding Officer of the Trial Court err in the following? " (1) He gave instruction to the trial jury, and sent it out to enter into deliberations for the express purpose of finding and rendering a verdict, in the absence of the accused and his counsel. " (2) He gave instructions and directions to a Committee of the trial jury, and in the absence of the other eleven jurors before the verdict was announced, and this without the knowledge of, and in the absence of the accused and his counsel. " (3) He instructed the jury to follow its own interpretations of the law in the Discipline in arriving at a verdict. "4. Did the Presiding Officer of the Trial Court err by forcing the accused both to trial without due notices and 'sufficient time' to prepare for the trial, and selecting the jury without the presence and benefit of the accused' counsel against his protest and citation of laws which such action violated? "5. Did the Appellate Court err by refusing the appellant's request and attempt to present the second section of the Brief on the 'EVIDENCE DOES NOT SUPPORT THE CHARGES' which outlined the illegal and irregular procedure of the trial court which permitted the admission of improper remarks, illegal accusations, speeches by the witnesses, conclusions and sarcastic comments by the counsel for the Church and some Church witnesses and numerous pleas made to the jury by the counsel for the Church while witnesses were on the stand? "6. Did the Presiding Officer of the trial court err by ruling against the appellant's request to use a Methodist layman as his assistant counsel? JURISDICTION The Judicial Council, under Par. 1045 of the 1952 Discipline, has jurisdiction to hear and determine this appeal. (See Par. 1033.) ANALYSIS AND FINDINGS of THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL The issues in this appeal were ably presented by the Reverend L. Blake Craft, appellant, and by his counsel Dr. J. Ed Fain; and an able reply thereto was presented by Dr. Waights G. Henry, Jr. and his assistant Dr. Harvey C. Holland, counsel for the North Georgia Annual Conference. 1. The Charges 1. While the CHARGES are meager, the Report containing the specifications refers to them as "the following bill of charges and specifications." In the opinion of the Judicial Council the bill of charges and specifications were sufficient to put appellant on notice of what he was being accused and constituted a substantial compliance of the law of the Church relating to charges and specifications. 2. Therefore, the President of the trial court did not err in failing to sustain the appellant's motion for dismissal of the charges and specifications. 2. The Verdict 1. The verdict returned found the accused guilty on two of the specifications in the charges. The jury did not specify new charges, but it specifically repeated in the verdict two of the original specifications on which it had found the accused guilty. By inference the accused was acquitted on the other specifications. 2. In the appellant's brief he challenges the verdict on the ground that it did not show that each specification was voted on separately by the jury, as required by Par. 1002 of the Discipline. There is no proof in the record that the jury did not vote on each specification separately. The fact that the accused was found guilty on only two of the specifications is a circumstance indicating that the jury did vote on each specification separately. However, in the absence of positive proof that such was not the case the Judicial Council will presume that the jury complied with the law in arriving at its verdict. 3. The appellant claims as a matter of law, that the Trial Court erred by instructing the jury in the absence of accused and his counsel, and sending it out to arrive at a verdict, and instructing it to follow its own interpretation of the law in the Discipline in arriving at a verdict. Counsel for the Conference, in reply to this objection, states that the reason the accused and his counsel were not present when the jury was instructed and sent out to arrive at a verdict was that they absented themselves for an unreasonable time after the appointed time for the Court to convene. This becomes a matter of fact on which the Judicial Council is not permitted to pass. The instruction complained of does not appear to be sufficient on which to declare the action of the Trial Court as constituting an error of law. 4. As to whether the accused was given "sufficient time" to prepare for trial, and whether the Trial Court erred in forcing him to select the jury without aid of counsel is another point raised in the appeal. Had the charges been filed in the interval between sessions of the Annual Conference the accused would have been given 10 days' notice. The General Conference, however, under the Constitution, Paragraph 8 of the 1952 Discipline, has "full legislative power over all matters distinctly connectional." It is not the prerogative of the Judicial Council to question why the General Conference has established one proceeding for trials in the interval between sessions of the Annual Conference, and another proceeding for trials when accusations are preferred against a traveling elder during the session of an Annual Conference. The accused was charged and tried under Paragraph 936, 1952 Discipline and the succeeding Paragraphs of the Discipline; and Par. 937 specifically provides that "the Annual Conference may order the completion of such trial before the final adjournment of the session." Apparently the whole matter was conducted substantially in accordance with the law of the Church, and the Judicial Council so finds. 5. The Court of Appeals of the Southeastern Jurisdiction had some discretionary power in the matter of length of arguments, etc., the presentation of briefs, etc., and the record is not sufficient to sustain the charge that as a matter of law the appellate Court erred by "refusing appellant's request and attempt to present the second section of the Brief on the "Evidence Does Not Support The Charges." 6. The sixth point of the appeal can be answered categorically in the negative - Par. 1006 of the 1952 Discipline. That Paragraph establishes the policy that in the trial of a traveling preacher no layman shall participate as counsel. By implication at least that includes an assistant counsel.

Decision

Since the record discloses that the whole proceedings in regard to the charges against the Reverend L. Blake Craft, his trial thereon, and his appeal therefrom to the Court of Appeals of the Southeastern Jurisdiction were conducted substantially in accordance with the established law of the Church, and that no error of law was committed justifying a reversal of the judgments of the trial and appellate Courts, it is the Decision of the Judicial Council that the judgments of the trial and appellate Courts in this matter be and they are hereby in all things affirmed.

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