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Decision No. 973

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October 23 2003
In Re: Request from the California-Pacific Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶¶ 352 and 359 of the 2000 Discipline as Related to an Involuntary Leave of Absence and an Administrative Complaint.

Digest of Case

A written request by the district superintendents to place a clergyperson on involuntary leave of absence under ¶ 352.1b of the 2000 Discipline does not constitute a complaint under ¶ 359.1 of the Discipline.

Statement of Facts

On June 20, 2003, the California-Pacific Annual Conference adopted a motion requesting a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council on the meaning, application and effect of ¶¶ 352 and 359 of the 2000 Discipline. Specifically, the Conference asks the following question: Since 1) the Disciplinary reason for administrative complaints, "...inability to perform ministerial duties," (¶359.1d[2]), and the Disciplinary reason for involuntary leave of absence initiated by the District Superintendents, "(clergy who) are unable to...perform their ministerial duties," (¶352.1), are substantially coterminous; and 2) decisions on whether a clergy shall be placed on involuntary leave of absence and processing of administrative complaints are both handled by the Board of Ordained Ministry (Judicial Council Memorandum 950, ¶359.3); does this mean that a written request by the District Superintendents to place a clergy on involuntary leave of absence constitutes a written complaint, as defined in ¶359.1a? If so, must there be a period of formal supervision, as defined in ¶359.1b, initiated before the administrative complaint may be referred to the Board of Ordained Ministry? If so, which committee of the Board of Ordained Ministry should process this complaint? The executive committee (Judicial Council Memorandum 950) or "a committee of the board that deals with matters of conference relations (other than the executive committee)"? And should whichever committee of the board processes the complaint have the full range of remedial actions detailed in ¶359.3a available to it when such a complaint or request is received? Oral hearings were held in San Diego, California on October 23, 2003. Speaking on behalf of the California-Pacific Annual Conference were Richard Bentley and Thomas H. Griffith. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2000 Discipline. ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE The request for declaratory decision raises certain issues with respect to the process by which a clergyperson is placed on an involuntary leave of absence. Paragraph 352.1b provides, in relevant part: Involuntary Leave of Absence - The district superintendents may request an involuntary leave of absence without the consent of the probationary, associate, or full member, at least ninety days prior to the annual conference session. They shall give to the probationary, associate, or full member and the board of ordained ministry in writing specific reasons for the request. The fair process for administrative hearings as set forth in ¶ 359.2 shall be followed in any involuntary leave of absence. In Decision 632, the Judicial Council upheld the constitutionality of ¶ 448.1 of the 1988 Discipline, the predecessor of ¶ 352.1b of the 2000 Discipline. Decision 632 states, “t is not necessary under the Constitution that every matter dealing with a problem in the ministerial relationship be forced into the trial proceedings covered by ¶ 2624 [of the 1988 Discipline.]” As Decision 632 notes, “[t]he situation of a minister who has been given leave of absence and one who has been terminated is not the same.” A written request by the district superintendents to place a clergyperson on involuntary leave of absence does not constitute a complaint under ¶ 359.1. Once the district superintendents request an involuntary leave of absence, in a writing enumerating specific reasons for the request, under the provisions of ¶ 352.1b, all proceedings thereafter must comply with fair process for administrative hearings as set forth in ¶ 359.2. The provisions of ¶ 359.1 involving supervision, supervisory response, suspension, referral of a complaint and supervisory follow-up are not made applicable under such circumstances by the very language of ¶ 352.1b which only references ¶ 359.2.

Decision

A written request by the district superintendents to place a clergyperson on involuntary leave of absence under ¶ 352.1b of the 2000 Discipline does not constitute a complaint under ¶ 359.1 of the Discipline. Sally Brown Geis was absent.

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