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Decision No. 852

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April 22 1999
In Re: Appeal From the Decision of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals That It Had No Jurisdiction to Hear an Appeal by a Former Probationary Member From the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference.

Digest of Case

The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals properly ruled that the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals does not have jurisdiction in this case. No formal complaint based upon the specific chargeable offenses of ¶ 2624.1 of the 1996 Discipline was filed by the bishop. For the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals to accept jurisdiction in this case would be a constitutional (¶ 31) violation of the right of the Annual Conference to determine its membership. The record received by the Judicial Council does not reflect any violations of fair process nor were any raised in a timely manner.

Statement of Facts

On July 6, 1998 the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals rendered a decision in response to the appeal filed by a discontinued probationary member of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference. The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals determined that this appeal was not within the jurisdiction of the committee. In the July 7, 1998 letter to the Appellant, the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals stated: ". . . that the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals does not have jurisdiction in this case because the Book of Discipline does not give jurisdiction to this committee in supervisory situations." The Appellant was continued as a probationary member in 1997 upon application for full member and elder's orders. In 1998 upon application for admission into full membership, the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry in its assessment of the candidate's application, recommended to the clergy session the discontinuance as a probationary member in accordance with ¶ 318.6 of the 1996 Discipline. Upon his request the Appellant was granted a hearing before the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry on May 27, 1997 related to the recommendation to discontinue his probationary membership. The executive committee of the board sustained the recommendation and reported to the full board on June 11, 1998. The board report to discontinue on this date was sustained by the clergy session in accordance with ¶ 318.6 of the 1996 Discipline. In addition to the hearing with the executive committee of the board and the full Board of Ordained Ministry, the candidate was granted opportunity and chose to speak on the matter before the clergy session on June 11, 1998. The Appellant filed an appeal on the decision of the clergy session to discontinue his probationary membership on June 22, 1998 with the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals. Following the July 6, 1998 decision of the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals to decline jurisdiction, the Appellant submitted an appeal to the Judicial Council on July 31, 1998. In August 1998 the Appellant's advocate filed an appeal, based on ¶ 2628.4(a) of the 1996 Discipline, with the bishop of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, who properly declined to rule based upon Decision 830 and stated the cited ¶ 2628.4(a) did not appear to be applicable. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2615 of the 1996 Discipline. Analysis And Rationale The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals properly ruled that the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals does not have jurisdiction in this case. No formal complaint based upon the specific chargeable offenses of ¶ 2624.1 of the 1996 Discipline was filed by the bishop. Involuntary discontinuance, as in this instant case, requires that the fair process (¶ 358.2) as afforded probationary members regarding timely notice, a hearing, and the right of advocacy be followed. The 1996 Discipline grants a probationary member the right to request and be granted a hearing upon such recommendation of discontinuance. No trial is appropriate unless the bishop files a formal complaint based on one or more of the disciplinary chargeable offenses (¶ 2624.1). Then the complaint is assigned to the counsel for the Church to prepare the complaint with specifications and submit them to the Conference Committee on Investigation (¶¶ 318.6, 2626.3) to determine that there is reasonable ground for a trial. In Decision 830 related to fair process, the council stated: 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. In the instant case, there does not appear to be any violation of fair process in the hearings. Further, the Appellant did not raise any issues of fair process with the presiding officers. In the discontinuance of a probationary member the disciplinary process under ¶ 318.6 and related paragraphs follows a method that protects the rights of a probationary member who is not "under charges." This protection of rights is affirmed in Decision 351, which states: Equally historic is the method for protecting the rights of ministers who are not "under charges," against whom no formal accusations have been brought, and therefore for whom no trial is properly in order. This method has used long-accepted practices and procedures to determine the acceptability of a person for appointment by a bishop to a parish in the church. Based upon the submitted materials in this case, the proper process was followed in the discontinuance. The discontinuance of a probationary member based upon the 1996 Discipline is inclusive of the following: 1. A discontinued probationary member has no trial, unless by the disciplinary process the Committee on Investigation determines there are reasonable grounds. 2. Notice and right to administrative hearing to the candidate (¶¶ 318.6, 358.2) by the executive committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry. 3. Written report to full board (¶ 318.6) by the executive committee of the board. 4. Board recommendation ratified at the clergy session of the Annual Conference (¶ 318.6). 5. Permanent record and reports of action are maintained (¶¶ 318.6, 606.6). 6. Such records are available to Cabinet, District Committee on Ordained Ministry, and Conference Board of Ordained Ministry (¶¶ 606.6,.9). 7. Orders and credentials of a discontinued probationary member are secured by the district superintendent and forwarded to the secretary of the Annual Conference (¶ 318.6).

Decision

The Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals properly ruled that the Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals does not have jurisdiction in this case. No formal complaint based upon the specific chargeable offenses of ¶ 2624.1 of the 1996 Discipline was filed by the bishop. For the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals to accept jurisdiction in this case would be a constitutional (¶ 31) violation of the right of the Annual Conference to determine its membership. The record received by the Judicial Council does not reflect any violations of fair process nor were any raised in a timely manner.

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