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Decision No. 1113

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April 23 2009
In Re: Review of Decision of Law by Bishop Robert Hayes at the 2008 South Central Jurisdictional Conference Regarding Use of Property at Southern Methodist University.

Digest of Case

A presiding bishop is obliged to answer questions of church law when properly submitted. In order to be a proper question, the question must be submitted in writing in the regular business of a session, must be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the conference, and must state the connection to a specific action taken or to be taken by the conference. Although the request for a decision of law presented during the 2008 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference raised a question of secular law that was beyond the bishop’s prerogative, the question nevertheless properly raised questions of church law. The Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction was properly vested with the authority to give its consent to enter into a lease agreement. The South Central Jurisdictional Conference properly ratified the Mission Council action.

Statement of Facts

The minutes of the 2008 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference reflect that while presiding during a regular session of the conference, Bishop Robert E. Hayes, Jr. received a written request for a decision of law in the following form:

Jeannie Treviňo-Teddlie, Central Texas submitted, in writing, a Decision of Law request of the Chair: Is the approval of the lease of property of Southern Methodist University by the South Central Jurisdiction and Southern Methodist University, at less than market value, to the Bush Foundation for the purpose of establishing a policy institute, in conflict with the Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and/or the Book of Discipline, specifically - ¶2503.4, which requires all United Methodist property to be “kept and maintained . . . for the benefit of the United Methodist Church and subject to the usages and the Discipline of the United Methodist Church” and said lease would subsidize a specific political and ideological point of view. Bishop Hayes received the Petition and will rule on it within 30 days, and it will be submitted to the Judicial Council.
This case is presented in a somewhat unusual fashion, and that has compelled the Judicial Council to look carefully at the bishop’s ruling and sources referenced in the minutes including but not limited to the Structure and Rules for the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church and the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University. The record reflects that on March 13, 2007, the Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church adopted a resolution granting its consent and approval to Southern Methodist University to enter into a lease agreement or lease agreements with the George W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation for the establishment of a Presidential Library Museum, Foundation, Institute and related facilities to be located on a portion of the Southern Methodist University campus property. On July 17, 2008, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference received the report of the Petitions and Resolutions Committee. Among the items presented was an amended petition that read as follows:
The South Central Jurisdictional Conference does not concur with Petition 80089 because the South Central Jurisdiction Mission Council was duly authorized to take final action on the matters contained therein during its regular meeting in 2007 and, therefore, acted properly and in good faith. The Petitions and Resolutions Committee believes it is essential that the President George W. Bush Institute function in a manner that maintains the integrity of Southern Methodist University and the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. To this end, the Petitions and Resolutions Committee moves the following: The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church understands that the institute does not speak for the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church or Southern Methodist University. The South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church is dedicated to academic freedom and instructs Southern Methodist University to report back to the 2012 South Central Jurisdictional Conference of the United Methodist Church on the relationship with the Institute and its impact on Southern Methodist University and the level of compliance of the George W. Bush Foundation and the Institute with the covenants of agreements protecting the integrity of Southern Methodist University and indirectly the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.
Petition 80089 is a petition that was submitted to the 2008 General Conference expressing opposition to the establishment of a Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University. The General Conference voted to refer petition 80089 to the 2008 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Upon due consideration, the South Central Jurisdictional Conference voted non-concurrence with Petition 80089 and adopted the amended petition set forth above. The bishop made his ruling on August 12, 2008, and reported to the Judicial Council in accordance with ¶ 2609 of the 2004 Discipline. In the interest of completeness and clarity, we restate the bishop’s ruling in its entirety:
RULING
I rule that this request for a “Decision of Law” is improper, moot and hypothetical.
RATIONALE
First, I believe a portion of the request goes beyond church law and involves secular corporate and real estate law. I do not believe I have before me a proper request for a ruling on church law. Second, the substance of this request was extensively debated by the Conference, which decided by a vote of 158-118 to approve a petition (Attachment A) in opposition to the position of the person submitting this request for a Decision of Law. The delegate submitting this request, along with three other persons, also submitted a petition (Attachment B) to the Conference with which the Conference non-concurred. A petition concerning this matter was referred by the General Conference to the Jurisdictional Conference (Attachment C) and was not concurred with by this Conference. Following the votes on the above-mentioned petitions, there was no motion or other attempt to appeal any action of the Conference with respect to these petitions. The subject matter of this request had been fully acted upon by the Conference and was no longer before the body; thus, when raised, this question of law, even if otherwise in order, did not relate to the business, consideration or discussions of the Conference session. Third, this request also is worded in a way that suggests matters of purported fact that seem to me to be hypothetical and speculative, adding to my concern that I have been asked to render a ruling of a hypothetical nature. In reaching this decision, I am mindful and respectful of Decision 166 rendered by the Judicial Council concerning Southern Methodist University and Decision 820 [continuing Decision 817] and 1086, both citing a long list of Judicial Council decisions relating to the disposition of hypothetical questions, and Memorandum 927.
The President of the Judicial Council granted the parties’ requests for an oral hearing. An oral hearing was conducted on April 23, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. John W. Bryant, Esq., and Kelly Hollingsworth, Esq., appeared along with The Rev. Jeannie Treviño-Teddlie. S. Leon Bennett, Esq., appeared on behalf of Southern Methodist University. John Croft, Esq., and Bishop Scott Jones appeared on behalf of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.
Jurisdiction
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Book of Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The delegate requested a decision of law from the bishop on whether the approval of the lease was in conflict with the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline. The bishop’s ruling can be separated into three categories. The ruling initially observed that a portion of the request involved secular real estate law and, as a result, was not a proper request for a ruling on church law. In the second portion of the ruling, the bishop recounted the action of the body in adopting the petition ratifying the Mission Council’s action and concluded that because the action had been taken and the issue was no longer before the body, it did not relate to the business, consideration, or discussion of the conference session. In the third section, the bishop ruled the request to be hypothetical and speculative. Because the bishop did not answer the question properly submitted, we cannot affirm the bishop’s ruling. Our normal course upon reversal of a bishop’s decision of law where the bishop has failed to answer a question properly submitted is to remand the question to the bishop with directions to answer the question. In this limited instance, we find it advisable to conduct our own analysis of the complete record in order to bring final resolution to the issue at the earliest possible stage. The delegate made a proper request for a bishop’s decision of law. It was submitted in writing in the regular business of a session of the jurisdictional conference. Moreover, the request for a bishop’s decision of law had a direct and tangible effect on action taken by the jurisdictional conference and, therefore, was related to the work of the jurisdictional conference. The request was germane to the regular business of the session. The question qualifies in all respects as a proper question of church law that requires an answer. The bishop was correct to the extent that he declined to answer or attempt to interpret secular law. However, the bishop had a clear obligation to render a decision of law with respect to the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline. Paragraph 415 provides that the presidential duty of a bishop is to preside in General, jurisdictional, central and annual conferences. When presiding at a jurisdictional conference, the presiding bishop has the duty to interpret the rules of the jurisdictional conference and to answer proper questions of law based on disciplinary provisions. The bishop’s response failed to address the question concerning the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline. It is our opinion that the bishop was obliged to interpret the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline. Under ¶ 2609.6, normally a bishop is obliged to rule on a question of law during the conference session but is allowed up to 30 days after the close of the conference session to rule on questions properly submitted. In responding to a request for a bishop’s decision of law, it is insufficient for the bishop to recount the process of discussion or action on the issue by the body. The minutes of proceedings are provided for such purpose. The bishop’s ruling asserts that there was no motion or attempt to appeal the action of the conference. The bishop’s conclusion that the question was therefore improper because it did not relate to the business, consideration or discussions of the conference session misperceives the clear dictates of ¶ 2609. The question submitted directly related to the action taken by the jurisdictional conference in adopting the amended petition. There is no disciplinary or parliamentary provision for an instanter appeal of an action taken by the body during a session. The remedy is to request a bishop’s decision of law, in writing, during the regular business of a conference session. In the third segment of his ruling, the bishop determined that the question was hypothetical and speculative. The question posed alleges that the lease agreements were negotiated at less than fair market value. Nothing in the record, other than the question itself, makes reference to fair market value. Because the Judicial Council is not a fact-finding body, we cannot determine whether that portion of the question is true or untrue. The allegation that the lease agreements were negotiated at less than fair market value is not a self-proving assertion. There are portions of the question that neither the presiding bishop nor the Judicial Council can or should answer. Stripped to its essence, however, is a question that could have and should have been answered:
Is the approval of the lease of property of Southern Methodist University by the South Central Jurisdiction to the Bush Foundation in conflict with the Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University and/or the Book of Discipline, ¶ 2503.4?
The Structure and Rules for the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church provide that the governance of the affairs of the South Central Jurisdiction between its quadrennial meetings are entrusted to a Mission Council that is comprised of lay and clergy persons elected from the several annual conferences of the South Central Jurisdiction. It is the duty of the Mission Council to receive and consider all matters of policy and proposals coming from any source calling for action by the jurisdictional conference. Additionally, the Mission Council is empowered to perform all administrative and financial responsibility not assigned to other bodies of the conference. The Structure and Rules further provide that the Mission Council’s actions taken between meetings of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference are valid and in full effect until the next regular session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. The Mission Council’s action granting its consent and approval was reported to the 2008 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. Affording the amended petition its clear intendment, we determine that the amended petition adopted by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference was a ratification of the Mission Council action taken on March 13, 2007. The question posed asks specifically whether the approval of the lease conflicts with ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline. The language contained in ¶ 2503 relates to trust clauses in deeds. The presiding bishop made reference to his reliance on Decision 166. Decision 166 is a declaratory decision on the relationship of an effective minister who has been appointed by a bishop to the faculty of Southern Methodist University. While the controlling law of Decision 166 is not relevant to this case, Decision 166 is helpful in understanding the unique historic relationship between Southern Methodist University and the South Central Jurisdiction. The Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University provide that the University is to be forever owned, maintained and controlled by the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church. The trustees of Southern Methodist University are elected and approved by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. The Articles of Incorporation may not be amended without the consent of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. These provisions indicate the close relationship that exists between the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church and Southern Methodist University. See Decision No. 166. The disposition of the University’s property is, in the instance of the Bush Foundation, a leasehold disposition. Title to the property remains vested in the University. We find nothing in the action of the Mission Council or the South Central Jurisdictional Conference that in any way violates the Restated Articles of Incorporation of Southern Methodist University or the trust clause provisions of ¶ 2503.4 of the Discipline.

Decision

A presiding bishop is obliged to answer questions of church law when properly submitted. In order to be a proper question, the question must be submitted in writing in the regular business of a session, must be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the conference and must state the connection to a specific action taken or to be taken by the conference. Although the request for a decision of law presented during the 2008 session of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference raised a question of secular law that was beyond the bishop’s prerogative, the question nevertheless properly raised questions of church law. The Mission Council of the South Central Jurisdiction was properly vested with the authority to give its consent to enter into a lease agreement. The South Central Jurisdictional Conference properly ratified the Mission Council action. William B. Lawrence recused himself and did not participate in any of the proceedings related to this decision. Ruben T. Reyes was absent. Jay Arthur Garrison, first lay alternate, participated in this decision.

CONCURRING OPINION
I concur with the majority decision. This concurring opinion is offered in the interest of transparency and completeness. Each member of the Judicial Council should observe high standards of conduct to observe the integrity and the impartiality of the judicial process. Judicial Council members should avoid any and all impropriety and conduct all judicial and extra judicial activities so that they do not cast doubt on the member’s ability to act fairly and impartially. I gave strong consideration to the remittance of recusal in this case due to my former affiliation as a member of the board of trustees of Southern Methodist University and my former service as an elected delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. I was a member of the board of trustees of Southern Methodist University from September 1988 through May 2000. I was also privileged to be elected as a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conferences in 1988, 1992, 1996 and 2000. Although I was elected as a delegate to the 2004 South Central Jurisdictional Conference, my election to the Judicial Council at the 2004 General Conference compelled me to retire as a jurisdictional delegate prior to the time that the 2004 South Central Jurisdictional Conference convened. Applying the principles established in Decision 1096 concerning recusal, I determined that my previous service to the church in those capacities did not disqualify me from deliberating in this case. My service on the board of trustees of Southern Methodist University and as a delegate to the South Central Jurisdictional Conference concluded long before any of the operative facts relevant to this case arose. I was never privy to, nor did I participate in, any of the discussions concerning the issue in controversy, either as a member of the board of trustees or as a delegate to the Jurisdictional Conference. Jon R. Gray

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