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Decision No. 756

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October 26 1995
In Re: Authority of the Annual Conference to Change, Negate, or Defer Trial Court Decisions or Actions Ratified by the Clergy Session and Affirmed by the Judicial Council.

Digest of Case

An Annual Conference may not alter or negate, in whole or in part, a penalty fixed by the Trial Court which has been ratified by the clergy members in executive session unless that decision is appealed. It can be altered only by the Judicial Council.

Statement of Facts

This matter is a revisitation of Decision No. 716. A question raised before the Judicial Council by the Secretary of the Conference stated: "You will recall that a trial court requested unspecified pension and insurance benefits for a clergy member of the South Carolina Annual Conference placed under suspension. The clergy member is included in the state of South Carolina group health plan where he is employed so he waived group health benefits. The amended clergy member was ruled to be ineligible for Ministerial Pension Plan participation by Bishop Bethea. The ruling on pension eligibility was appealed and the Judicial Council found that a clergyperson under suspension could receive a private pension. How an Annual Conference that is not providing a salary can provide a pension was not addressed. The South Carolina Annual Conference, at the 1995 session, provided the funds that would otherwise be required for Ministerial Pension Plan participation for the period of June 1, 1994 through June 15, 1996, to purchase a private pension. There is the provision that the clergy member under suspension be subject to underwriting inasmuch as the Annual Conference has to be the owner and purchaser of the private pension." A declaratory decision was requested to answer the following questions: (a) Do Paragraph 36 (Division II, Section VII, Article II of the Constitution) and Paragraph 2626.1b (Power of a Trial Court) allow the Annual Conference as "the basic body" to alter or negate, in whole or in part, the penalty fixed by the Trial Court which was ratified by the clergy members in executive session on May 30, 1994 and was ruled on by the Judicial Council in its Decision 716 on October 29, 1994? (b) Is it a violation of paragraph 2626.1(h) (power of the Trial Court) or Paragraph 36 (Division II, Section VII, Article II of the Constitution) for the Annual Conference to be allowed to vote on the question of whether or not to implement, in whole or in part, the penalty fixed by the Trial Court in this case when the Executive Session of the Annual Conference has already voted to ratify the penalty fixed by the Trial Court (May 30, 1994) and the Judicial Council has ruled (October 29, 1994) that the penalty fixed by the Trial Court can legally be implemented? (c) Is it a violation of Paragraph 2626.1(h) or Paragraph 36 for the penalty fixed by the Trial Court in this case not to be implemented immediately after the clergy members in executive session have ratified the action of the Trial Court and the Judicial Council has ruled that the penalty fixed by the Trial Court can legally be implemented? (d) In the light of Judicial Council Decision 240, paragraph 36, and paragraph 2626.1h, do the clergy members in executive session have the authority to withdraw the credentials of ordination or to extend the suspension for an additional specific period of time beyond that designated by the Trial Court because some of the specifications added by the Trial Court have not been satisfied? Susan Henry-Crowe and Theodore H. Walter recused themselves and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under Par. 2616 of the 1992 Discipline . ANALYSIS The conference secretary was incorrect in stating, "How an Annual Conference that is not providing a salary can provide a pension was never addressed." This was specifically addressed in the last paragraph of the Analysis of Decision 716, which states: "However, there is nothing in the Discipline to preclude an Annual Conference from contracting with outside parties for pension benefits. Par. 606.11(a) does preclude such contracts for the benefit for "individual effective or retired ministers." The minister under suspension by the Annual Conference is not an effective minister during the time of the suspension. The South Carolina Annual Conference may contract with outside parties for pension benefits for the clergy member during the period of suspension. However, if the clergy member does not wish to be covered by a pension plan provided by an outside party, that portion of the Trial Court's verdict may be waived by the clergy member." According to the facts provided us, when the matter was originally taken up, the Annual Conference at its clergy session in 1994 ratified the Trial Court's verdict. Therefore, it is final and cannot be altered or negated in whole or in part except by the Judicial Council. Nor is there any need for the Annual Conference to further vote on the question in that the verdict is final and the implementation was spelled out in Decision 716, and the implementation should have been taken care of immediately.

Decision

An Annual Conference may not alter or negate, in whole or in part, a penalty fixed by the Trial Court which has been ratified by the clergy members in executive session unless that decision is appealed. It can be altered only by the Judicial Council. This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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