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Decision No. 974

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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 ¶ 359.2 Concerning Access to Written Complaints and Supporting Documents at the Initiation of the Supervisory Process.

Digest of Case

At the initiation of the supervisory process the respondent has a right not only to examine but to possess the written complaint and any supporting material accompanying it. Confidentiality is a highly important principle that must be observed by all parties during the supervisory process, but it cannot be used as a reason to keep the complaint and supporting documentation from the respondent and his/her advocate/counsel.

Statement of Facts

On June 20, 2003, the California-Pacific Annual Conference voted to request the Judicial Council to make a declaratory decision on four questions submitted by two petitioners. The third question was: The provision for Fair Process in Administrative Hearings (¶359.2) specifically “commences upon referral of a matter as an administrative complaint.” The provisions for Fair Process in Judicial Proceedings (¶2701) specifically “commence upon referral of a matter as a judicial complaint…” Both provisions guarantee “the respondent shall have access to all records relied upon in the determination of the outcome of the (appropriate) process.” (¶359.2e, ¶2701.6) When a complaint (“a written and signed statement claiming misconduct or unsatisfactory performance of ministerial duties” [¶3591a]) is received by the bishop or a district superintendent, there is no provision guaranteeing a respondent a right to access to all records until the matter passes through the Supervisory Response. (¶359.1b). However, Judicial Decision 830 affirms that Fair Process is a constitutional right as well as a disciplinary right. ¶359.1a specifically states “The person filing the complaint and the clergyperson shall be informed by the district superintendent or bishop of the process for filing the complaint and its purpose.” Therefore, does a respondent have a right to receive and keep, at the very least, a written copy of the complaint against him/her, copy(s) of supporting documents submitted with the complaint, and sufficient other detail to allow the respondent to prepare a response (¶359.2b), at the commencement of the supervisory response? The request for a declaratory decision was properly before the annual conference and received the appropriate approval for submission to the Judicial Council by the California-Pacific Annual Conference. Oral hearings were held in San Diego, California on October 23, 2003. Richard Bentley and Thomas H. Griffith spoke, representing the California-Pacific Annual Conference. JURISDICTION The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2610 of the 2000 Discipline. ANALYSIS AND RATIONALE The provision for fair process in administrative hearings states in ¶ 359.2 (e) “The respondent shall have access to all records relied upon in the determination of the outcome of the administrative process.” The respondent has a right not only to examine but to possess the written complaint and any supporting material accompanying it at the initiation of the supervisory process. A respondent cannot make an adequate response to a complaint without being privy to the complaint in its totality. Fairness alone dictates access to such written complaints and their supporting documents. Full disclosure of all information concerning a complaint must occur for the respondent to make an adequate response. The judicial process for clergy entails confidentiality on the part of all parties; however, maintaining confidentiality cannot be used to withhold the written complaint and its supporting documents from the respondent.

Decision

At the initiation of the supervisory process the respondent has a right not only to examine but to possess the written complaint and any supporting material accompanying it. Confidentiality is a highly important principle that must be observed by all parties during the supervisory process, but it cannot be used as a reason to keep the complaint and supporting documentation from the respondent and his/her advocate/counsel. Sally Brown Geis was absent.

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