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Decision No. 903

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October 26 2000
In Re: Bishop’s Decision of Law in the California-Nevada Annual Conference Related to the Propriety of the Committee on Investigation Inviting Diverse Witnesses from Across the Nation to Speak on Homosexuality and Sexual Orientation Generally Rather than Speaking on the Specific Complaints Against the Participants in the January 16, 1999 Event on Which the Charges Before the Committee Were Based.

Digest of Case

The decisions of law of Bishop Melvin G. Talbert are not affirmed because the questions asked were not proper questions of law.

Statement of Facts

During the course of the regular session of the California-Nevada Annual Conference, held June 14-18, 2000, a lay member of the Annual Conference requested and was granted a point of special privilege. He then proceeded to ask two questions of law regarding ¶ 2626 which reads as follows: Committee on Investigation-1. General-The investigation procedure is the first step in the judicial process. The appropriate committee on investigation (¶ 2626.2c, .3c, .4c) shall conduct the investigation, and if in the judgment of the required number of committee members there is reasonable ground for such charges, they shall sign and certify the charges as proper for a trial (the general offense or offenses under ¶ 2624) and the specifications (e.g., the date, place, and specifics of the events alleged to have taken place). They shall then forward a copy to the person charged, the person making the complaint, and the appropriate Church officials (¶ 2626.2c, .3c, and .4c). After reading the paragraph, the layman posed the first question: Did the Committee on Investigation of the California-Nevada Annual Conference act properly...? The second question asked was: Did the committee judge the law of the church with its decision rather than the evidence of the charge? Not having time to do the necessary research to rule on these questions during the annual conference session, the bishop chose to exercise the option of ruling on these questions within the prescribed 30 days. Upon reading the full text of the February 8, 2000, report of the Committee on Investigation, the bishop reported that he did not find the specific information needed to respond to the questions. Apparently the report did not provide sufficient details regarding the committee process. In order to seek the necessary information, the bishop had telephone conversations with the chairperson and the secretary of the Committee on Investigation. He invited each to explain the process used in the committee by its members. In the ruling he stated, ". . .My purpose was to listen and to discern whether the committee had, indeed, considered the specific complaints of each respondent as well as the information gleaned from the hearings. Both officers were very clear in stating that the committee considered and voted on the specifics of each complaint. There was no dispute about the facts.” In his ruling, the bishop stated that conversations with the two committee officers revealed that a public hearing was held pursuant to ¶¶ 2626.6.d) and 2626.6.e) of the Book of Discipline. Having completed his research, the bishop made the following decisions on the two questions of law submitted by the lay member. Question: “Did the Committee on Investigation of the California-Nevada Annual Conference act properly...?” Ruling: “Yes! The committee acted properly. The committee considered and acted on each complaint. The public hearing did not replace the deliberative process of the committee. Rather, the hearing was a feature as set forth in paragraph 2626.6d. There was never a question as to whether the respondents participated in the event of January 16, 1999. The real question was whether the committee members, by voting, felt the complaints against the respondents should be converted into charges that would warrant a trial. The committee members voted not to certify the complaints as charges proper for trial. The committee followed due process according to our church polity.” Question: “Did the committee judge the law of the church with its decision rather than the evidence of the charge?” Ruling: “This question is moot and hypothetical. It is not possible for anyone to know what was in the mind of individual members of the committee when each voted. What is known is the decision of the committee, not what motivated each member.” The Judicial Council has jurisdiction in this case under ¶ 2613 of the 1996 Discipline. The issue in this case is whether the two questions presented by the lay member as "a point of special privilege" were proper questions of law requiring a decision of law by the bishop. Decision 799 determined that "a so-called 'question of law,' though properly presented, must relate to the business, consideration or discussion of the conference session." There is no indication that, during the proceedings of the annual conference session, the work of the Committee on Investigation related to the business, consideration or discussion of the session. Therefore, the two questions presented by the lay member of the Annual Conference were not proper questions of law requiring a bishop's decision of law

We concur in the decision of the Judicial Council in this matter because we believe that the decision is required by the procedural context in which the question presented has come to the Judicial Council. Nevertheless, the question presented raises important issues for our connectional system and accountability within that connectional system. We are unable to reach those issues because of the procedural context of this case. Keith D. Boyette Mary A. Daffin James W. Holsinger, Jr.

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