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Decision No. 995

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October 28 2004
In Re: IN RE: Request from the Virginia Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Meaning, Application and Effect of ¶ 352.1(b) [Involuntary Leave of Absence] and ¶ 356.2 [Voluntary Retirement] of the 2000 Discipline Where a Clergy Member Requested Voluntary Retirement, But was Placed On Involuntary Leave of Absence by the Clergy Session.

Digest of Case

The action of the Virginia Annual Conference placing the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence is reversed. The case is remanded to the Virginia Annual Conference with directions to reinstate the clergy member to the same status he held prior to the 2004 Clergy Session of the Annual Conference. The member is entitled to immediate appointment and to all salary and other benefits retroactive to June 14, 2004. The Annual Conference is required to act on the clergy member’s request for voluntary retirement.

Statement of Facts

On May 11, 2004, a clergy member of the Virginia Annual Conference was notified of the district superintendents' decision to seek to place the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence and to seek waiver of the ninety-day notice requirement pursuant to ¶ 352.1(b) of the 2000 Discipline. In addition to the superintendents’ decision, the member was given a statement of specific reasons. On May 12, 2004, the member was given Notice of Hearing and Appeal by the Board of Ordained Ministry. A hearing was held before the Conference Relations Committee on June 2, 2004. After the hearing, the Conference Relations Committee voted to recommend that the member be placed on involuntary leave of absence and to recommend waiver of the ninety-day notice requirement. On June 7, 2004, the clergy member notified the bishop of his request for voluntary retirement pursuant to ¶ 356.2. In response, the Board of Ordained Ministry notified the clergy member on June 9, 2004, that his request for voluntary retirement would be presented to the Clergy Session of the Annual Conference. During the Clergy Session held on June 13, 2004, the Board of Ordained Ministry presented its report and answers to standard minute questions. The report of Minute Question 58 was amended by the Board of Ordained Ministry to indicate that the clergy member had entered the retired relationship during the conference year. The following motion was made to “not grant the retired status this year to anyone recommended by the Cabinet and Board of Ordained Ministry for involuntary leave of absence, so that the church may fully deal with concerns about his conduct.” The record of proceedings indicates that the motion was adopted; however, the record does not reflect the votes for and against the motion. The Board of Ordained Ministry representative moved to place the member on involuntary leave of absence. The motion was adopted, thus amending by deletion the answer to Minute Question 58 as submitted on the addendum. The Board of Ordained Ministry representative then moved to waive the ninety-day notice requirement. The record of proceedings indicates that the motion to waive the ninety-day notice requirement was adopted; however, the record does not reflect the votes for and against the motion. During a later plenary session, the following motion was adopted: That the Virginia Annual Conference petition the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on the meaning, application, and effect of paragraph 352.1 b. (sic) (regarding involuntary leave of absence) and paragraph 356.2 (regarding voluntary retirement) and the action of the clergy session of the conference in placing a clergy person on involuntary leave of absence and not approving his request for retirement. Jurisdiction The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under to ¶ 2610 of the 2000 Discipline. Analysis and Rationale Fair process can never be presumed, but must be clearly demonstrated at each stage of proceedings, especially proceedings that contemplate an involuntary consequence. The apparent attempt on the part of the Board of Ordained Ministry to truncate the procedure required to place a member on involuntary leave of absence denied the member fair process. Numerous irregularities are evident from the record of proceedings submitted by the Conference. These irregularities cast serious doubt on the fairness of the process that preceded the Conference action. Likewise, the plethora of irregularities that appear in the record cast serious doubt on the fairness of the process by which the Conference took action placing the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence. The Judicial Council specifically notes the following irregularities:

These irregularities lead to the undeniable conclusion that fair process was denied in numerous respects. Consequently, the clergy member shall be reinstated to the same status he held prior to the Clergy Session of the 2004 Annual Conference and is entitled to immediate appointment and to all salary and other benefits retroactive to June 14, 2004. See Decisions 782 and 915. The clergy member is also entitled to a vote of the Annual Conference on his request for voluntary retirement. The Annual Conference may or may not grant the request. In the event the Annual Conference chooses to deny the request for voluntary retirement, the member is then entitled to fair process on the issue of involuntary leave of absence from the initial stage as required by ¶ 352.1(b). The record of any action placing the member on involuntary leave of absence must affirmatively show that the issue received a two-thirds (2/3) vote of the Clergy Session of members in full connection with the number of affirmative and negative votes recorded.

Decision

The action of the Virginia Annual Conference placing the clergy member on involuntary leave of absence is reversed. The case is remanded to the Virginia Annual Conference with directions to reinstate the clergy member to the same status he held prior to the 2004 Clergy Session of the Annual Conference. The member is entitled to immediate appointment and to all salary and other benefits retroactive to June 14, 2004. The Annual Conference is required to act on the clergy member’s request for voluntary retirement.

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