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Decision No. 1077

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October 26 2007
In Re: Review of Bishop’s Decision of Law in the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference Concerning Whether Procedures Used by the Annual Conference with Respect to Complaints Comply with ¶¶ 20, 327.6, and 362 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.

Digest of Case

Questions of law asked in response to a first draft of a report made to an annual conference are hypothetical because the annual conference did not adopt such report in final form. Questions of law pertaining to efforts by an annual conference to discontinue a probationary member are moot once the clergyperson requests and is granted a voluntary leave of absence.

Statement of Facts

During the regular business of the 2007 clergy session of the Western Pennsylvania Annual Conference, following a report of the Clergy Study Team of a “first draft” of a report entitled “Faithful, Effective, and Fruitful Clergy: A Working Definition,” a clergy member made a motion to refer the report. The motion was defeated, and the clergy member requested a ruling of law on a number of questions. The questions, in part, arose out of the proposed discontinuance of a probationary member of the Annual Conference. Ultimately, the probationary member requested a voluntary leave of absence, and the Annual Conference approved that request instead of discontinuing the probationary member. The questions are as follows, followed by the Bishop’s responses in bold:

Question of Law Regarding Ad Hoc Procedure
I request that the bishop make a ruling of law on the following questions in accordance with paragraphs 51 and 2609.6 of the 2004 Book of Discipline: 1) Does the ad hoc procedure; which began to be developed at the BOOM/Cabinet Retreat in October 2004, and was expressed in the September 17, 2005 BOOM minutes as "In meeting with the Bishop we discussed the `procedure' he would like us to use in handling `complaints' if we are not going to call them that. I think it would be good if Bishop Bickerton would give BOOM a written procedure that he would like us to use in order for the board to look at as a whole, discuss, amend, implement."; and used with Rev. Jayne Veneer during this annual conference; meet the standards of ¶¶ 20, 362 (the person against whom the complaint is made will immediately receive a written copy of the process to be followed at that stage) of the Book of Discipline? Paragraph 1 of Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 1 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy study team" report and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 2) Does the ad hoc procedure provide for sufficient detail to protect the right of a clergy person to know the specific allegations in writing and the right to face one's accusers by not having allegations signed in accordance with ¶¶ 20, 362.1.a of the Book of Discipline, and Judicial Decision 763 (The grievance shall contain as much information as is available at the time the grievance is prepared to give notice of what is being complained of and the time period involved.)? Paragraph 2 of the Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 2 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 3) Does the ad hoc procedure provide for sufficient protections against short circuiting a supervisory response that seeks just resolution by the bishop and district superintendent within the time-limits and procedures provided for in ¶¶ 20, 362, 362.1.b and 362.1.d of the Book of Discipline? Paragraph 3 of the Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 3 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 4) Does the ad hoc procedure ensure a clergy person's right to a fair process hearing in accordance with ¶¶ 20, 327.6, 362.3 of the Book of Discipline and the Administrative and Judicial Procedures Handbook (2005-2008) page 2-1, in that there is an initial hearing (as conducted March 20, 2007) of the referral in front of the full Board of Ordained Ministry with members of the executive committee present, and those same members of the executive committee then are part of the fair process hearing (as conducted April 20, 2007)? Paragraph 4 of the Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 4 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted upon by the Annual Conference and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 5) Do ¶¶ 20, 327.6 require that the initial hearing by the Board of Ordained Ministry, required by the ad hoc procedure, be required to follow fair process of ¶ 362.3 of the Book of Discipline? Paragraph 5 of the Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 5 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted upon by the Annual Conference and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 6) Is the structure of the Board of Ordained ministry fatally flawed to accommodate this ad hoc procedure by not providing for a committee on Conference Relations or other equivalent structure (requiring the full Board to act as a committee of the whole) as provide for by ¶¶ 20, 362.4 of the Book of Discipline and the Administrative and Judicial Procedures Handbook (2005-2008) pages 2-1? Paragraph 6 of the Request for Ruling references an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 6 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted upon by the Annual Conference and did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. 7) Does the ad hoc procedure violate ¶¶ 20, 362.3.a of the Book of Discipline and Judicial Decisions 698 (No verbatim record deprived the respondent of the right to be heard by the entity which imposes the sanction) and JD 836 (If and when, reconciliation and/or resolution is not attached, the Discipline provides for a proper hearing, notice, advocacy, and verbatim record.) as no verbatim record is made at the initial hearing (March 20, 2007) or the fair process hearing (April 20, 2007)? Paragraph 7 of the Request for Ruling pertains to an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 7 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted on by the Annual Conference and the Request did not pertain to any business of the Annual Conference. 8) Does the ad hoc procedure violate ¶¶ 20, 362.3.e of the Book of Discipline and Judicial Decision 974 (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.)? Paragraph 8 of the Request for Ruling pertains to an “ad hoc procedure,” which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 8 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a “clergy session study team” report, which was not acted on by the Annual Conference and did not pertain to any business of the Annual Conference. 9) Does the ad hoc procedure violate ¶¶ 20, 362.c of the Book of Discipline by not ("providing for an opportunity to have a clergy advocate accompany the respondent at the initial hearing (March 20, 2007)? Paragraph 8 (sic) of the Request for Ruling pertains to an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 8 (sic) is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted on by the Annual Conference and did not pertain to any business of the Annual Conference. 10) Does the ad hoc procedure violate ¶¶ 20, 362.a in placing time limits on the presentation of the De Nova case at the fair process hearing that establishes all facts and merits in any case? Paragraph 10 of the Request for Ruling pertains to an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 10 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted on by the Annual Conference and did not pertain to any business of the Annual Conference. 11) Does the ad hoc procedure violate the fair process provisions of ¶327.6 accorded to probationary members of an annual conference? Paragraph 11 of the Request for Ruling pertains to an "ad hoc procedure," which procedure does not exist. As such, the request in paragraph 11 is hypothetical and is not proper. Additionally, the Request for Ruling was made during a "clergy session study team" report, which was not acted on by the Annual Conference and did not pertain to any business of the Annual Conference. 12) In the administrative hearing of Rev. F. Jayne Verner using this procedure, Do the findings of the conduct of the Western Pennsylvania's officials charged with the disciplinary responsibility of supervision as "We have concluded that the lapse of proper supervision in this case was egregious", result primarily from the flawed structure of the ad hoc procedure and therefore is the conduct of these officials covered under the immunity clause of ¶ 362.3.g? As previously mentioned, there is no "ad hoc" procedure, for which reason no such procedure could be followed. With regard to Reverend F. Jayne Verner, a probationary member, she elected to go on voluntary leave of absence. Furthermore, the Request for Ruling was made during the clergy study team report, which report was not acted upon by the Annual Conference, and did not pertain to business of the Annual Conference.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609.6 of the 2004 Book of Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The Bishop’s decision of law is reversed in the holding that the questions of law did not relate to any business of the Annual Conference. The questions of law related to the subject matter of the report of the Clergy Study Team. Questions of law can be asked about matters addressed during an annual conference session even if the annual conference does not vote on such matters. Nevertheless, the Bishop’s decision of law is affirmed in that the questions of law are hypothetical. To the extent that they addressed matters covered by the Clergy Study Team first draft of a report entitled “Faithful, Effective, and Fruitful Clergy: A Working Definition,” the questions are premature since the report was in draft form and was not finalized by the Annual Conference. At this stage the questions are hypothetical since no determination has been made of the final form of such a report. The questions of law are also moot to the extent that they seek to address actions taken by the Annual Conference in considering the discontinuance of a probationary member. Once the probationary member elected to seek and was granted a voluntary leave of absence, all issues related to the Annual Conference’s efforts to discontinue the clergy person’s probationary membership were moot The questions of law raised are hypothetical and moot. The Bishop’s decisions of law are affirmed for this reason.
Decision
Questions of law asked in response to a first draft of a report made to an annual conference are hypothetical because the annual conference did not adopt such report in final form. Questions of law pertaining to efforts by an annual conference to discontinue a probationary member are moot once the clergy person requests and is granted a voluntary leave of absence. October 27, 2007 James W. Holsinger, Jr., Jon R. Gray and Shamwange P. Kyungu were absent. C. Rex Bevins, the first clergy alternate, and Solomon Christian, the first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

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