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Memorandum No. 1157

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October 29 2010
In Re: Request from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference for a Declaratory Decision on the Effect and Application of the Policy and Protocol on Clergy Sexual Misconduct of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference and the Protocol on Lay Sexual Misconduct of the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference and ¶ 605.8 of the 2008 Book of Discipline in the Case of a Clergy Member

During the 2010 clergy session of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, the Annual Conference adopted the following resolution to request a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision from the Judicial Council:

Rev. Easto then made a motion seeking a declaratory decision on the effect and application of the Policy and Protocol on Clergy Sexual Misconduct of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and the Protocol on Lay Sexual Misconduct of the Baltimore-Washington Conference and ¶ 605.8 of the 2008 Book of Discipline in the case of the Rev. Helen Steiner Smith. The presiding officer allowed that the motion was properly before the body and informed us that it received a majority vote. A vote was taken and the motion passed.
Under ¶ 2610 of the 2008 Discipline, the Judicial Council has jurisdiction to make a ruling in the nature of a declaratory decision as to the constitutionality, meaning, application, or effect of the Discipline or any portion thereof or of any act or legislation of a General Conference. The Judicial Council’s jurisdiction to make such a ruling upon request of an annual conference is limited by the language of ¶ 2610.2 (j) which requires that a request from an annual conference must relate to annual conferences or the work therein. Our longstanding jurisprudence has interpreted ¶ 2610 to mean that a request for a declaratory decision that comes from an annual conference must be germane to the regular business, consideration, or discussion of the annual conference. Additionally, an annual conference request for a declaratory decision must relate to some action taken or proposed to be taken by the annual conference, wherein, under the specific facts in each case, some doubt may have arisen over the legality of the action taken or proposed. The request for a declaratory decision must also make reference to a specific paragraph of the Discipline thought to have been violated. The question submitted for declaratory decision must have a direct and tangible effect on the work of the body submitting the petition. This principle has never been reversed or modified. There is no showing in the record supplied that the Policy and Protocol referenced in the request for declaratory decision was before the Annual Conference for action or that the legality of the policy was in question. See Decisions 33, 301, and 452. The Judicial Council has only such jurisdiction as is expressly granted to it by the Constitution and by the General Conference. Our lodestar principle has been that we may not assume jurisdiction to render a declaratory decision unless jurisdiction has been clearly vested in the Judicial Council. See Decision 29. Our long-standing policy is to construe our jurisdiction strictly and with restraint. See Decisions 255 and 535. The Judicial Council held an oral hearing in this cause on October 28, 2010, at New Orleans, Louisiana. The Rev. Dr. Helen Steiner Smith and The Rev. Laura B. Easto appeared on behalf of the Petitioner. Bishop John Schol, presiding bishop of the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference appeared on behalf of the Annual Conference along with The Rev. F. Joye Jones, The Rev. Evan D. Young, and The Rev. Vivian McCarthy.
DIGEST
The Judicial Council has no jurisdiction.

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