Judicial Council Decisions Search
Memorandum No. 575
April 23 1987
In Re: Remanded Decision of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Court of Appeals in Appeal of John P. Carter and Cross Appeal of the Baltimore Annual Conference. (Memorandum No. 571)
Digest of Case
On October 24, 1986 the Judicial Council remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions either to document its statements that "the Court cannot say that the record was free of racism and that there were indications of racism in the record" or expunge these statements from its decision. The Court of Appeals neither documented nor expunged. Instead, it essentially repeated previous general references to "indications of racism," and mentioned the concern of the presiding officer of the Trial Court to be sure that racism did not adversely affect jury selection or testimony. Given the failure of the Court of Appeals to document evidence of racism or any other grounds for reversal of the verdict of the Trial Court, we have no alternative but to sustain its ruling. The Court of Appeals reduced the period of suspension from three years to two, making June 30, 1987 the termination date. Also, the requirement of public confession and apology was removed from the penalty. The Court was within its authority to do so. At an open hearing on April 23, 1987, David Sloan appeared for the accused, Jane Dolkart for the Baltimore Conference, and Robert Sweet for the Court of Appeals of the North Central Jurisdiction. To facilitate appointment decisions, the Judicial Council rules that the period of suspension shall terminate on the first day of the 1987 session of the Baltimore Annual Conference. With that modification the ruling of the Court of Appeals is sustained.
Statement of Facts
Concurring Opinion The Judicial Council, in Decision 571, remanded this matter to the Jurisdictional Court of Appeals because that court implied that the trial proceedings were tainted with racism. We asked them to document or expunge this reference. They did neither. Their opinions, in both instances, were carelessly written. It is a serious matter to make such an accusation without documentation. Unsupported declarations that racism exists cannot be considered evidence. The expression of concern by a trial judge does not constitute evidence. Our Discipline details provisions for both trial and appeal. If these are followed with fairness and common sense a defendant is amply protected. Our trial procedures are not detailed to the degree they are in the civil courts. They do not need to be. We need both flexibility and a higher standard in the church. However they must be followed in order that proceedings be fair. April 24, 1987 James Dolliver Elizabeth Gundlach Tom Matheny Gene Sease Albert Sweazy Dissenting Opinion The Northeastern Jurisdiction Court of Appeals and this Council have added their stamp of approval to a verdict of guilty where it has been shown that the trial record was not free of racism and other errors. I find it inconsistent to have the racism documented along with other errors which were sufficient to mitigate the penalty but such errors are insufficient to vitiate the verdict. The trial should at least appear to be fair and just to the accused. John P. Carter is entitled to a fair trial under the procedural safeguards of our Discipline. The church is obligated to prosecute an accused in a manner that comports to the principles of fairness and equality. The Discipline is quite clear that church trials are an expedient of last resort. The rights afforded by the Discipline must be provided to the beneficiaries of those rights. Our church courts should not erode or minimize this protection by making such nebulous findings that errors were committed but that such errors are harmless. We cannot predict what would have occurred had there been attempts at reconciliation as well as a proper selection of persons for the jury pool. The trial may have been avoided or the accused may have been acquitted on all charges. The resident bishop received the complaint against the accused; he referred it to the Committee on Investigation; he suspended the accused from his duties and he designated the trial judge. The jury pool was selected by the district superintendents. Both the resident bishop and the district superintendents followed the procedures that are required by our Discipline. Those procedures are not invalid on their face but the application of the procedures herein did not alleviate the appearance of bias and prejudice as well as a conflict of interest amongest the officials of the church. The 1988 General Conference should immunize these laws from such challenges. The trial judge expressed concern about the composition of the jury pool and panel. The trial court said, "We had an inadequate number of ethnic persons from whom to select . . . and there's a strong proportion of women in the pool." Nothing was done to correct that inequity; the pool had been named and no steps were taken to alleviate the racial and gender inequity of the jury pool. The observation by the trial judge was made just before the final peremptory challenge by the church. The accommodation that was made to prevent an all white jury did not cure the defect of the imbalanced pool. The failure to adhere to the principles of reconciliation, the unfair selection of the jury panel along with the other indications of racism in the record are sufficient to reverse the conviction and to return the matter for a new trial with instructions to proceed with a trial that complies with the due process standards in our Discipline. I do not impugn the character of any of the parties in this case but there should be the recognition that errors were made which caused the accused to receive less than what the law requires and the only fair way to correct the situation is to conduct a new trial. We should not evade the proper resolution of this case based on the characters involved nor on the resources that would be expended in a new trial. Church courts in an "inclusive church" should not validate a verdict that is tainted with racism and other errors on some quantum theory that a little amount of racism is harmless error. We have shirked our responsibility by failing to guarantee a fair trial to an accused in accordance with the due process and procedural safeguards of our law. Willard H. Douglas, Jr.