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Decision No. 580

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April 23 1987
In Re: untitled

Digest of Case

In July of 1986, M.A. Kunkle, a ministerial member of the West Ohio Conference, was found guilty by a trial court of immorality under Par. 2621 of the 1984 Discipline. He appealed to the Court of Appeals of the North Central Jurisdiction. That court ruled that the procedures of the West Ohio Conference in investigating and trying the case were "so flawed that the material the trial court had before it was so tainted that it was impossible for the trial court to arrive at a fair and just decision." The case was remanded to the West Ohio Conference for a new trial, with instructions to the conference to pay specified benefits to the accused. The accused appealed the ruling to the Judicial Council, asking that all charges be dismissed. The West Ohio Conference filed a cross-appeal which asked the Judicial Council to reverse the decision of the Court of Appeals and reinstate the verdict of the trial court. At an open hearing before the Judicial Council on April 23, 1987, Roy Webster appeared for the accused and Eugene Frazer for the West Ohio Conference. Evidence heard by the trial court is not within the purview of the Judicial Council, except for purposes of determining sufficiency. We may rule only on matters of law, as related to procedures of the Court of Appeals. The Judicial Council finds that the issues of law raised by the Court of Appeals in its ruling are valid, and that the court was acting within its authority to order a new trial. The Court of Appeals was also within its authority in instructing the West Ohio Conference to pay the accused benefits, as required by Par. 2624.2(i). An Annual Conference may not escape this responsibility by arbitrarily placing a minister on involuntary leave of absence instead of calling the Committee on Investigation into session and proceeding to trial in timely fashion if trial is warranted. The Court of Appeals was in error on one point, although it does not affect the outcome of this particular case. Citing Par. 2626.1, the court expressed its opinion that the "process and trial should have been carried out in the Louisville Conference," where the accused was serving under special appointment by the bishop of the West Ohio Conference, instead of in the West Ohio Conference, where he is a member. Par. 2626.1 provides that "any ministerial members residing beyond the bounds of the conference in which membership is held shall be subject to the procedures of Pars. 2620-2625 exercised by the appropriate officers of the conference in which he/she resides." Interpreting this paragraph to include investigation and trial among those procedures places it in direct conflict with Par. 36 of the Constitution, which gives to an Annual Conference the right "to vote on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its ministerial members." To that extent, Par. 2626.1 is unconstitutional, void, and of no effect. Though an accusation may originate in a conference where a minister resides but does not hold membership, the investigation and trial, if any, must be conducted by the Annual Conference of which the minister is a member, since that process may result in a change in ministerial relations. This does not prejudice the right of an accused to request a change of venue. The decision of the Court of Appeals remanding the case for a new trial and ordering the payment of benefits is sustained. The opinion of the court concerning the proper venue for ministerial trials is not sustained. The West Ohio Conference must convene the Committee on Investigation within 60 days from the date of this decision (April 24, 1987). If charges are filed by the committee, a written copy of the charges and detailed specifications must be supplied promptly to the accused. (Pars. 2622, 2623.3)

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