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Decision No. 830

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April 24 1998
In Re: Review of Decisions of Law of Bishop Joel Martinez Relating to Discontinuance of a Probationary Member by Nebraska Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

Questions relating to administrative actions by properly constituted bodies are not proper questions of law for substantive answers by a bishop. The bishop's rulings are affirmed.

Statement of Facts

At the 1997 Nebraska Annual Conference clergy session on June 3, 1997, a series of questions were submitted to the bishop in the course of a discussion related to discontinuance of a probationary member. The Board of Ordained Ministry brought the recommendation for the discontinuance of the Reverend Kenneth A. McQueen, Jr. After the chairperson of the Board of Ordained Ministry made a brief presentation concerning the recommendation, the presiding officer recognized the Reverend Mary E. McQueen, an elder in full connection, to speak on the matter. After the Reverend Mary McQueen's statement, further discussion continued, after which a written ballot vote was taken. The clergy session vote upheld the Board of Ordained Ministry's recommendation for discontinuance of the Reverend Kenneth A. McQueen, Jr.. Questions Submitted and Bishop's rulings The questions submitted were: 1. Why the Board of Ordained Ministry did not allow the 20 day "notice with sufficient detail" in preparation for a hearing before the Executive Committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry regarding Kenneth A. McQueen's discontinuance as a probationary member per ¶ 358.2b, 1996 Book of Discipline. Bishop's ruling: This is not a proper question for a ruling of law since it relates solely to a judicial or administrative process (Judicial Council Decision No. 799, spring 1997). 2. What is the meaning of "sufficient detail" in ¶ 358.2b, 1996 Book of Discipline? Bishop's ruling: This is not a proper question for a ruling of law since it relates solely to a judicial or administrative process (Judicial Council Decision No. 799, spring 1997). 3. Would you please define "access" as it appears in ¶ 358.2(e) in the 1996 Book of Discipline. Bishop's ruling: This is not a proper question for a ruling of law since it relates solely to a judicial or administrative process (Judicial Council Decision No. 799, spring 1997). 4. Would you define "reconciliation and restoration" as it pertains to ¶ 358.1 of the 1996 Book of Discipline. Bishop's ruling: This is not a proper question for a ruling of law since it relates solely to a judicial or administrative process (Judicial Council Decision No. 799, spring 1997). 5. Why was the probationary member not assigned a counseling elder during his first year in the Nebraska Annual Conference? Bishop's ruling: This is not a proper question for a ruling of law since it relates solely to a judicial or administrative process (Judicial Council Decision No. 799, spring 1997). In summary, all five questions arise out of an administrative process of the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Annual Conference. Substantive rulings by the bishop on these questions would be contrary to Decision 799 of the Judicial Council. C. Rex Bevins recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Decision 799 clearly set forth the premise that a bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on judicial or administrative action. Action taken by the clergy session on the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry for discontinuance of a probationary member is clearly an administrative action. We therefore affirm the bishop's rulings on the questions submitted. Since there was some question as to proper procedure to raise issues of fair process, and in order to insure that fair process was followed, in the instant case the Judicial Council considered the materials submitted by the parties and finds no violation of fair process. It is noted that some of the material submitted to the council on behalf of the discontinued probationary member was so discourteous and abusive that it bordered on being in violation of ¶ 6(d) of the Judicial Council's Rules of Practice and Procedure. We recognize the extensive, detailed and well documented material submitted on behalf of Kenneth A. McQueen, Jr. The Judicial Council finds that consideration of most of the material was in the sole purview of the Board of Ordained Ministry, clergy session and the Annual Conference under ¶ 31 of the Constitution. So long as fair process is followed not even the Judicial Council may overturn a decision of the Annual Conference in such matters. At present, there is no specifically stated disciplinary route of appeal of the procedural aspects of administrative decisions; however, fair process must be followed in all administrative decisions. Inasmuch as the council continues to receive bishops' rulings on questions of law regarding administrative actions, the following procedure is offered for use in regard to questions of fair process. Questions of fair process must be timely raised with the presiding officer at each step of the administrative process. Any objections to irregularity of the proceedings, must be made prior to or at the first session of the proceedings and the presiding officer shall rule on such questions as in the same manner set forth in ¶ 2627 of the 1996 Discipline. The presiding officer's rulings on questions of fair process can be pursued only by means of appeal in accordance with procedure as in the same manner as set forth in ¶ 2628 of the 1996 Discipline. Fair process is a constitutional, as well as a disciplinary, right and is protected by the judicial process. Fair process applies to administrative action as well as judicial process. However, fair process does not apply to supervisory situations. Questions of fair process are not proper questions of law for substantive ruling by a bishop. While we continue to hold to the proposition that the decision of the Annual Conference on matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members and on ordination of clergy is final under ¶ 31 of the Constitution, procedural aspects of fair process must be followed at every step of the process. The substantive issues of character and conference relations of clergy members and on ordination are to be dealt with by the proper bodies within the Annual Conference; such matters are not within the purview of any appellate body.

Decision

The Bishop's rulings are affirmed. Any questions on fair process must be timely raised and pursued through an appeals process in the same manner as trial procedures are questioned (¶¶ 2627 and 2628 of the 1996 Discipline). This copy subject to final editing and correction.

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