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Memorandum No. 1167

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October 29 2010
In Re: Review of a Bishop’s Decisions of Law in the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference Regarding the Discontinuation of a Provisional Member with Regard to ¶¶ 327, 362 and 636

Decision

At the 2010 regular session of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference a clergy member made a written request for a Decision of Law on four questions related to administrative and judicial procedures concerning a clergy person in the conference. The presiding Bishop ruled on each of the questions presented rather than ruling that the questions of law were improper. The Guidelines for Bishop’s Rulings on Questions of Law in Decision 799 state:

…The bishop has no authority to make substantive rulings on judicial or administrative matters. Such matters are limited to the purview of the judicial or administrative bodies such as Committee on Investigation, Trial court, Committee on Appeals or Judicial Council. The constitution (¶ 18) and the 1996 Discipline (¶¶ 358, 2623, and 2626-2628) have placed the authority to resolve such questions in these bodies. To do otherwise would violate the principle of separation and balance of powers between the legislative, executive and judicial branches as set forth in the Constitution [emphasis added]. Questions which are procedural or substantive matters relating solely to actions in a judicial or administrative process are not proper questions to be addressed in a substantive ruling by a bishop.…
There continues to be confusion concerning the issue of that which is appropriately asked by an individual of a presiding bishop as a question of law and that which is improper. The confusion may perhaps be the result of the fact that until October 1999 the church had operated under a paragraph in the Discipline that permitted bishops so to rule. Paragraph 2628.1(j) of the 1996 Discipline had specifically provided:
Errors or defects in judicial proceedings shall be duly considered when present on appeal. (1) In regard to cases where there is an investigation under ¶ 2626, but no trial is held as a result thereof, errors of Church law or administration committed by those in charge of the investigation are to be corrected by the presiding officer of the next conference on request in open session, and in such event the conference may also order just and suitable remedies if injury resulted from such errors. (2) Errors of Church law or defects in judicial proceedings that are discovered on appeal are to be corrected by the presiding officer of the next conference upon request in open session, and in such event the conference may also order just and suitable remedies if injury has resulted from such errors.
However, in October 1999 the issue of the constitutionality of this paragraph came before the Judicial Council. In Decision 872 the Judicial Council ruled:
This paragraph grants to a bishop and an annual conference powers and authority which are reserved to other organizational bodies and divisions in the Constitution. For the foregoing reasons ¶ 2628.1(j) is determined to be unconstitutional and is ruled to be so.
Questions as to fair process, judicial process, and administrative process must be addressed in the appropriate manner and through the specific bodies set forth in the Discipline. In no event may an individual bring those delineated issues to the Judicial Council pursuant to a review of a bishop’s ruling on a question of law; to do so circumvents the process set forth in the Discipline and also violates the principle of the separation and balance of powers. It is only by vote of an authorized body for a declaratory decision that the matter might be addressed by the Judicial Council on the merits. The Judicial Council has jurisdiction pursuant to ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
DIGEST
The questions of law presented to the Bishop during the 2010 regular session of the Rocky Mountain Annual Conference are questions which are procedural or substantive matters relating to actions in a judicial or administrative process. These are not proper questions to be addressed in a substantive ruling by a bishop. Since the Bishop does not have the authority to decide issues related to a judicial or administrative matter, the Bishop’s decisions are reversed and vacated.

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