Judicial Council Decisions Search
Decision No. 799
April 24 1997
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Iowa Annual Conference Concerning Legality of Procedures Related to a Clergy Member’s Suspension and Subsequent Trial. Review of bishop’s Decision of Law in the Iowa Annual Conference Concerning Violation of ¶ ¶454 and 2622 of the 1992 Discipline in the Definition of
Digest of Case
Questions of law submitted to a bishop regarding a procedure, process or action in a finalized trial are moot and hypothetical. A so-called "question of law", though properly presented, must relate to the business, consideration or discussion of the conference session. That portion of ¶ 2627.1(h)(2) of the 1996 Discipline (formerly ¶ 2626.1(h)(2) of the 1992 Discipline) which provides for the executive session of the clergy members of the Annual Conference to ratify a church trial decision if such decision results in a change in the conference relationship of a clergy member is unconstitutional. That portion of ¶ 2627.1(h)(2) of the 1996 Discipline (formerly ¶ 2626.1(h)(2) of the 1992 Discipline) which provides for the executive session of the clergy members of the Annual Conference to vote on ratification of the Trial Court decision is unconstitutional, even though the matter may be under appeal to a Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. The bishop’s rulings are affirmed except as herein modified.
Statement of Facts
At the 1996 Iowa Annual Conference a number of questions were submitted to the bishop as "questions of law’ under ¶ 2613 of the Discipline. The questions appeared on our October 1996 Docket as items V, VI, VII and VIII and were deferred by Judicial Council Memorandum 796, and are listed as items, I, II, III and IV on our April 1997 docket. All of the questions except No. 7 involve questions of procedure in connection with trials which have been finalized. Question No. 7 involves a supervisory function of the district superintendency under ¶ 520 of the 1992 Discipline. (¶ 421, 1996 Discipline) Docket No. I The first series of questions numbered 1 through 6 relate to Reverend William E. Ballard, a clergy member of the Iowa Annual Conference, who was charged in 1995 with sexual abuse, under a conference "Power and Sexual Abuse Policy", which policy this Council subsequently held invalid (Decision 768). The council ruled, however, that the procedures by which the charges were brought against Reverend Ballard were valid (Memorandum 760). Those procedures included the Board of Ordained Ministry’s notification to Reverend Ballard of its intent to recommend to the executive session of the Annual Conference that his conference membership be terminated. Reverend Ballard chose to have his case heard by a Church trial. The Trial Court acquitted Reverend Ballard on march 27, 1996. From July 1, 1995 through March 27, 1996, Reverend Ballard was listed in the conference journal as "appointable But Not Appointed". Upon acquittal, Reverend Ballard was appointed. Question Nos. 1 through 6 submitted to the bishop and summaries of his rulings are as follows: Question of Law No. 1: Presumption of Innocence Did the process through which the Reverend William E. Ballard was carried by the Iowa Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church for the past fifteen months contravene Paragraph 2622 of The 1992 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church which stipulates that for any accused, "The presumption of innocence shall be maintained until the conclusion of the trial process?" Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: The bishop ruled in Question No. 1 that the process through which Revered Ballard was charged and ultimately acquitted did not violate Reverend Ballard’s presumption of innocence. Question No. 2: Prohibition of Continuity of Counsel Did the requirement that the Reverend William E. Ballard select a replacement for his assigned Counsel violate Paragraph 2622.3 and Paragraph 2626.1.f of the 1992 Book of discipline of The United Methodist Church which instructs that an accused shall be entitled to select a counsel which shall have the right of advocacy? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: The bishop ruled in Question No. 2 that the referenced paragraphs were no violated. Question No. 3: Refusal to Appoint Was it lawful to leave William E. Ballard, a clergy conference member in good standing who was not under suspension, on leave of absence, disability leave, or location, without appointment at the 1995 Annual Conference? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: Combined with Question No. 4. Question No. 4: Unlawful Suspension Was William E. Ballard lawfully under suspension from July 1, 1995 until the day of his acquittal, March 27, 1996? Is the notation #79.4, under "Business of the Annual Conference" (page 445, Iowa Annual Conference Journal, 1995), which states: Three full members of the Iowa Annual Conference - William E. Ballard, Steven Wainwright and Gill Jenkins are approved for appointment but are not now appointed. Permitted by The Book of Discipline as a method of suspending a conference member without vote of the Annual Conference? Does the reference to William E. Ballard on page 355 of the Pastoral Record of the Iowa Conference Journal 1995 ("1995 Not appointed") constitute consent to a continuation of suspension, since the clergy session of the Iowa Annual Conference did not vote on suspension or continuation of suspension? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: the bishop ruled in Question Nos. 3 and 4 that these questions were decided in Decision 776 and are therefore moot. Question No. 5: Non-acceptance of Certified Mail Did Mr. Tom Matheny, Chairperson of the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church, act unlawfully and in violation of the intent of The 1992 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church in not accepting from Iowa United Methodist Clergy Concerned, a certified letter, return receipt requested, addressing a ruling on a question of law to come before the Judicial Council in October 1995? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: The bishop ruled on Question No. 5 that ¶ 59.6 of the Discipline gives the Judicial Council the authority to provide its own method of organization and procedure and bishops are without authority in such matters. Question No. 6: Violation of Trial Court Confidentiality Did the Reverend David R. Wendel, Superintendent of the Ottumwa District of the Iowa Conference of The United Methodist Church, violate Paragraph 2623.1.3 and 2623.1.g of The 1992 book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church in releasing to the congregation of Central United Methodist Church of Oskaloosa, Iowa, via a letter, dated April 4, 1996, sent to all the members of that congregation, the numerical division of a closed church trial jury decision by which their former pastor was acquitted of charges of sexual abuse? And has the Reverend David R. Wendel violated Paragraph 2626.1.j(13) in reporting the apparent "hearsay" vote count information to the Oskaloosa congregation? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: the bishop ruled in Question No. 6 that he had no authority to determine whether a person has committed a chargeable offense and that posing such a question of law would be inappropriate under the Discipline. The bishop further ruled that the reporting of the division of the vote of the Trial Court which was announced by the Trial Court did not violat ethe stated provision of the Discipline. Docket No. II The question listed under item II of our Docket and listed as our Question No. 7 herein relates to supervisory functions by district superintendents in connection with the expectations of the pastor going to a new charge and a definition of the word "prescription" as used in a letter from a district superintendent to a clergy person and defined as "a tool that an advisory team can recommend and/or require as a plan of action to help a pastor confront and remedy the dynamics causing ineffectiveness." Question of Law No. 7: Whether two letters which were submitted or enclosed with the June 7, 1996, letter, dated April 26, 1996, and May 28, 1996, respectively, from District Superintendents, Rev. Wayne Clark and Rev. henry Bevel to Rev. r. Karin Peterson, violate paragraphs 454.1.a and 2622 of The 1992 Book of Discipline? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: That ¶ 454.1.a provides a "superintending role" by giving pastoral support and supervision to the clergy of the district and that the letters and their definitions contained therein were certainly within their authority, and that there was no violation of ¶ 454.1.a or ¶ 2622 of the 1992 Discipline. Docket No. III Our Question No. 8 submitted to the bishop is self-explanatory and reads as follows: Question of Law No. 8: Did Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan violate the provisions of the following paragraphs of The 1992 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church which provide and order that the Clergy Executive Session of an Annual Conference has jurisdiction in changes of conference Relations of Clergy, in ruling that the Clergy Session of the Iowa Annual Conference, meeting June 7, 1996, had no authority other than to ratify the decision and penalty of the Trial Court which found Rev. Steven E. Wainwright guilty of sexual abuse and ordered the surrender of his ministerial credentials? (paras. 36, 423.1, 452.3, 509.3, 702.1, 704.4, 2626.1h (1), 2626.lh(2), 2626.li, and 2628.4) Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: Reverend Wainwright could have had his case decided by the executive session of the clergy by permitting the recommendation of the board of Ordained Ministry that he be terminated to go forward to the clergy session. Instead, he selected a Church trial which resulted in the Trial court fixing his penalty, which was then only to be formalized or executed by the Annual Conference clergy session. Therefore, there were no violations of the cited provisions in the Discipline. Docket No. IV On June 7, 1996 Reverend Steven Wainwright presented several questions relating to the ratification by the Annual Conference of a decision by the Trial Court, all except three were previously answered in the foregoing questions. The three questions remaining were presented as our Question Nos. 9, 10 and 11. The bishop gave a combined response to the questions as appears below after Question No. 11: Question of Law No. 9: In the case of Rev. Steven Wainwright is a ratification vote at the Clergy Session of the 1996 Annual Conference, June 7-11, 1996, out of order since an appeal to the appellate court is already in progress and a court date set for July 29, 1996? Question of Law No. 10: Should an annual conference ratify the Trial Court’s decision prior to the completion of the appellate process? Question of Law No. 11: What would Rev. Wainwright’s status be in the Appeals Committee of the Jurisdiction overturned the Trial Court’s decision which the Conference has ratified: would the ratification vote supersede the final appellate decision? Summary of Bishop’s Ruling: Under the Discipline ¶ 2626.1.h(2) provides that the penalty fixed by the Trial Court shall take effect immediately unless the penalty changes the ministerial relationship of the clergy person or unless the presiding officer of the Trial Court stays the penalty. In this case, the Trial court did not stay the penalty and the only alternative was to submit the matter to the clergy session of the Annual Conference. This was done and the procedure followed was correct. Jurisdiction The Judicial council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Docket No. I April 1997 Docket I, which appeared on the October 1996 Docket as Item V, was reviewed by the council as to the ruling of Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan regarding the legality of procedure related to a clergy member’s suspension and subsequent trial in the Iowa Annual Conference. Four questions numbered 1(presumption of innocence), 2(prohibition of continuity of counsel), 5(non-acceptance of certified mail), and 6(violation of trial court confidentiality) are improper questions for substantive rulings by a bishop and are proper only under the purview of the judicial and/or administrative process. Two additional questions 3(refusal to appoint) and 4(unlawful suspension) are moot in that these matters were addressed previously in Decision 776. The Judicial Council received no request for reconsideration of Decision 776. It should be noted that all clergy qualified as appointable by the Annual Conference must be appointed. In the April 1997 Docket I, the bishop’s rulings on questions 1,2,5 and 6 are affirmed. The bishop rulings in questions 3 and 4, that these questions were decided in Decision 776, are affirmed with the council’s notations on appointment of qualified clergy. Docket No. II April 1997 Docket II, which appeared on the October 1996 Docket as Item VI, was reviewed by the council as to the ruling of Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan concerning violation of ¶¶ 454 and 2622 of the 1992 Discipline in the definition of "prescription" used by the Iowa Conference in matters dealing with clergy ineffectiveness. The so-called "questions of law," though presented properly, were not related to the regular business, current consideration nor discussion of the conference session and are part of the supervisory function of the district superintendent under ¶ 520. (¶ 421, 1996 Discipline) The bishop’s ruling is affirmed. The Discipline states the process for dealing with questions of law: ¶ 2613. The Judicial council shall pass upon and affirm, modify, or reverse the decisions of law made by bishops in central, district, annual, or jurisdictional conferences upon questions of law submitted to them in writing in the regular business of a session, and in order to facilitate such review, each bishop shall report annually in writing to the Judicial Council on forms provided by the council all the bishop’s decision of law. No such episcopal decision shall be authoritative, except in the case pending, until it has been passed upon by the Judicial Council, but thereafter it shall become the law of the Church to the extent that it is affirmed by the council. Normally, the bishop shall rule before the close of the annual conference session during which the question was submitted, but in no case later than thirty (30) days after the close of the session. The annual conference secretary shall enter in the annual conference journal an exact statement of the question submitted and the ruling of the bishop. The bishop’s ruling is affirmed. Docket No. III and IV April 1997 Docket III, which appeared on the October 1996 Docket as Item VII, was reviewed by the council as to the ruling of Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan concerning the authority of the clergy session in matters of changes of conference relations. Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan noted that if a Church Trial results in a change in conference relationship of a clergy member, the clergy session has authority to ratify, but not amend, the Trial Court ruling. April 1997 Docket IV, which appeared on the October 1996 Docket as Item VIII, was reviewed by the council as to the ruling of Bishop Charles Wesley Jordan concerning ratification of the ruling of a Trial Court. The bishop noted that a clergy session of the Annual Conference shall vote on ratification of the Trial Court decision, even though the matter was on appeal to the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. Par.56 guarantees to clergy a right to trial and appeal process. ¶ 56 states: "The General Conference shall establish for the Church a judicial system that shall guarantee to our clergy a right to trial by a committee and an appeal, and to our members a right to trial before the Church, or by a committee, and an appeal.." Par. 55. Article III states: "All decisions of the Judicial Council shall be final. When the Judicial council shall declare unconstitutional any act of the General Conference then in session, that decision shall be reported back to that General Conference immediately." Further, ¶ 55 of the Constitution is clear that the Judicial council is the final authority in church matters coming before it, including the judicial trial process. It is improper and unconstitutional to allow the executive session [ (¶2627.1(h)(2)] to ratify or not ratify a decision arrived at in the trial process, which through the appeal process may be reviewed by the Judicial Council. When resolution is not achieved and the respondent elects the trial process, the respondent is bound by the decision of trial and appeal process. Upon commencement of the trial, the process must be completed and a decision rendered by the Trial Court. This judicial process can not be interrupted by a change of plea no withdrawal by surrender of ministerial office. Once the trial and appeal process is completed, the decision is final. The final decision may not be altered or ratified by any other church body including a clergy session of an Annual Conference. The Judicial council declares unconstitutional that portion of ¶ 2627.1(h)(2) which states: …In the trial of a clergyperson, the penalty is subject to ratification, but not amendment, in the executive (sic) session of the clergy members in full connection wit the annual conference to the extent that the penalty changes the ministerial relationship of the respondent. Counsel for the Church will make the required motions to the clergy session of the clergy members in full connection with the annual conference. Clergypersons shall have the right to be present with voice during the consideration of motions of the trial court at the clergy session. The first two sentences of ¶ 2627.1.(h)(2) are retained: ¶ 2627.1(h)(2)- the penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately, except where the penalty changes the ministerial relationship of the respondent. The presiding officer of the trial court, at his or her discretion, may order a stay of the penalty. The bishop’s ruling is not affirmed in light of the unconstitutionality of the cited portion of ¶ 2627.1(h)(2) of the 1996 Discipline. GUIDELINES FOR BISHOP’S RULINGS ON QUESTIONS OF LAW: The Judicial Council has received a significant number of rulings by bishops on "questions of law" under ¶ 2613, including (October 1996 Dockets V,VI,VII, and VIII) April 1997 Dockets I,II,III, and IV. The duty of the bishop is to respond with a ruling to all submitted questions of law. A ruling is required even if the ruling is simply that the question is moot, hypothetical or improperly submitted. There are categories of so-called "questions of law" which should be identified by the bishop in rulings for review by the Judicial Council, but not given substantive responses. Among these are the following: Moot and hypothetical questions: Decision 33 is the landmark decision defining the issue on moot and hypothetical questions: "Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided.: Regarding moot and hypothetical questions, the key principle is "Moot and hypothetical questions shall not be decided." This principal has been followed in numerous decision including more recent Decisions 396, 651, 746, 747, 762, and 763. Judicial and Administrative procedures: The bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on judicial or administrative matters. Such matters are limited to the purview of the judicial or administrative bodies such as Committee on Investigation, Trial Court, Committee on Appeals or Judicial Council. The constitution (¶ 18) and the 1996 Discipline (¶¶ 358, 2623, and 2626-2628) have placed the authority to resolve such questions in these bodies. To do otherwise would violate the principle of separation and balance of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches as set forth in the Constitution. Questions which are procedural or substantive matters relating solely to actions in a judicial or administrative process are not proper questions to be addressed in a substantive ruling by a bishop. However, these questions are properly addressed by an appe3al to the presiding officer of a Trial Court [(¶ 2627.1(a)(3)]. In regard to errors during a trial, errors of procedure or law are properly addressed in the appellate process to the Committee on Appeals of the Jurisdiction [2628.1(g)]. Such questions are not proper questions for the bishop in that these are not matters concerning the regular business of the Annual Conference. By the constitution and other paragraphs of the 1996 Discipline, such questions belong to the judicial bodies of the Church. The question dealing with the Judicial Council’s authority to provide its own method of organization and procedure is properly considered only by the General Conference (¶ 2608.1) which also must be considered in light of such inherent authority of the Judicial Council under the Constitution. The proper ruling of the bishop is to rule that a bishop has no authority to deal with such matters. The question related to a violation of confidentiality is improper in that it poses a question of law: 1. Only a member of the Annual Conference shall be eligible to present in writing a request for ruling on a question of law in the regular business of a session. 2. Questions of law shall be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the Annual Conference and shall state the connection to a specific action taken, or the question must be raised during the deliberation of a specific issue of a matter upon which the conference takes action. 3. Question of law shall be entered in the Annual Conference journal record as an exact statement of the questions and the ruling of the bishop by the secretary of the Annual Conference and properly submitted to the Judicial Council (¶ 2613). 4. Failure of the proper action of the conference secretary, in and of itself, does not negate the responsibility of the bishop to rule and the Judicial Council to review the ruling. 5. The bishop shall rule on all questions presented as questions of law under ¶ 2613, which shall be submitted by a member of the Annual Conference in writing in the regular business of s session. 6. When the bishop determines that the question presented is not a properly presented "question of law", the bishop shall state the rationale in the ruling without further substantive commentary. In brief, all rulings shall be forwarded to the Judicial Council for review (¶ 2613). While there are not restrictions on presentations of any so-called "questions of law" to a bishop, there are numerous decisions which clearly state that the hypothetical, moot and improper questions are not in fact questions of law requiring a substantive answer. In such cases wherein the bishop has determined that the so-called "question of law" is either a hypothetical, moot or improper question, the bishop must however, so rule and follow the procedure for review by the Judicial Counci.l. The council has repeatedly noted that questions of law must relate to actual situations and must set forth the circumstances or acts upon which a specific ruling may be rendered.
Substantive rulings by a bishop which come under the purview of the judicial and/or administrative process are improper, however a bishop must rule on such matters as improper. The so-called "question of law" though presented properly, which do not relate to business, consideration or discussion of the conference session, are improper and should be so ruled and do not require a substantive answer. Questions involving the supervisory function of the district superintendent under the Discipline under ¶ 520(¶ 421 1996 Discipline) are improper and should be so ruled. Substantive rulings by a bishop which come under the purview of the judicial and/or administrative process are improper; however, a bishop must rule on such matters as being improper. That portion of ¶ 2627.1(h)(2) of the 1996 Discipline (formerly ¶ 2626.1(h)(2) of the 1992 Discipline) which provides for the executive session of the clergy members of the Annual Conference to vote on ratification of the Trial court decision is unconstitutional even though the matter may be under appeal to a Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. The bishop’s rulings are affirmed except as herein modified.