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Fair Process in Judicial Proceedings

¶ 2701. Preamble and Purpose-The judicial proceedings and the rights set forth in this paragraph commence upon referral of a matter as a judicial complaint from counsel for the Church to the committee on investigation. The judicial process terminates at the end of any appeal or right of appeal. The judicial process shall have as its purpose a just resolution of judicial complaints, in the hope that God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Jesus Christ. The following procedures are presented for the protection of the rights of individuals guaranteed under Section III, Article IV, of our Constitution and for the protection of the Church. The presumption of innocence shall be maintained until the conclusion of the trial process. Special attention should be given to ensuring racial, ethnic, age, and gender diversity of boards, committees, and courts and the timely disposition of all matters.12

1. Rights of the Complainant (the person filing the complaint)

a) Right to Be Heard-In any judicial proceeding, the complainant shall have a right to be heard before any final action is taken.

b) Right to Notice of Hearings-Notice of any hearing shall advise the complainant about proposed procedures, with sufficient detail to allow the complainant to prepare. Notice shall be given not less than twenty (20) days prior to the hearing. The complainant shall have the right to be present at any judicial process hearing.

c) Right to Be Accompanied-The complainant shall have the right to be accompanied by another person to any interview or hearing to which they are subject. The person accompanying the complainant may be an attorney, but shall not have the right to voice.

d) Right to be Informed of Resolution-The complainant shall have the right to be informed of the disposition of the complaint of the judicial proceeding as part of a holistic process of healing. Church officials are encouraged, as may be permissible, to include rationale.

2. Rights of the Respondent

a) Right to Be Heard-In any judicial proceeding, the respondent (the person to whom the procedure is being applied) shall have a right to be heard before any final action is taken.

b) Right to Notice of Hearings-Notice of any judicial process hearing shall advise the respondent of the reason for the proposed procedures, with sufficient detail to allow the respondent to prepare a response. Notice shall be given not less than twenty (20) days prior to the hearing. The respondent shall have the right to be present at any judicial process hearing.

c) Right to Be Accompanied-The respondent shall have a right to be accompanied by a clergyperson in full connection pursuant to

¶ 2706.2. The clergy person accompanying the respondent shall have the right of advocacy. The respondent shall be entitled to choose one assistant counsel without voice who may be an attorney.

d) Right Against Double Jeopardy-No bill of charges shall be certified by any committee on investigation after an earlier bill of charges has been certified by a committee on investigation based on the same alleged occurrences.

e) Right of Access to Records-The respondent and the Church shall have access to all records relied upon in the determination of the outcome of the committee on investigation, trial court, or appeal committee or body.13

3. Rights of the Church

a) Right to Be Heard-In any judicial proceeding, the Church shall have the right to be heard before any final action is taken.

b) For other rights and responsibilities of the church and counsel for the church see

¶ 2706.

4. Process and Procedure

a) Failure to Appear or Respond-In the event that the respondent fails to appear for any judicial process hearing, refuses mail, refuses to communicate personally with the bishop or district superintendent, or otherwise fails to respond to requests from official judicial committees, such actions or inactions shall not be used as an excuse to avoid or delay any Church processes, and such processes may continue without the participation of such individual.

b) Communications-In any judicial proceeding, under no circumstances shall one party or counsel, in the absence of the other party or counsel, discuss substantive matters with members of the pending hearing, trial, or appellate body while the case is pending. Questions of procedure may be raised and discussed ex parte, but only with the presiding officer or secretary of the hearing or appellate body.

c) Healing-As a part of the judicial process, the bishop and cabinet, in consultation with the presiding officer of the pending hearing, trial, or appellate body then sitting, shall provide for healing if there has been significant disruption to the congregation, the annual conference, or the context of ministry by the judicial matter. This may include a just resolution process for unresolved conflicts, support for victims, and reconciliation for all who are involved. This process may also include the sharing of information by the bishop or a cabinet member about the nature of the complaint without disclosing alleged facts underlying the complaint that might compromise the judicial process.

d) Immunity of Participants-In order to preserve the integrity of the Church's judicial process and ensure full participation in it at all times, the resident bishop, the cabinet, the presiding officer of the trial, trial officers, trial court, witnesses, counsels, assistant counsels, advocates, complainant, committee on investigation and all others who participate in the Church's judicial process shall have immunity from prosecution of complaints brought against them related to their role in a particular judicial process, unless they have committed a chargeable offense in conscious and knowing bad faith. The complainant in any proceeding against any such person related to their role in a particular judicial process shall have the burden of proving, by clear and convincing evidence, that such person's actions constituted a chargeable offense committed knowingly in bad faith. The immunity set forth in this provision shall extend to civil court proceedings, to the fullest extent permissible by the civil laws.

5. A Just Resolution in Judicial Proceedings-A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties. Special attention should be given to ensuring that cultural, racial, ethnic, age and gender contexts are valued throughout the process in terms of their understandings of fairness, justice, and restoration. During the just resolution process, the parties may be assisted by a trained, impartial third party facilitator(s) or mediator(s), in reaching an agreement satisfactory to all parties. Processes that seek a just resolution are encouraged at any time, including through the judicial proceedings. After the referral of a matter as a judicial complaint from counsel for the church to the committee on investigation, if a process seeking a just resolution is used, the appropriate persons, including the counsel for the Church and the counsel for the respondent, should enter into a written agreement outlining such process, including any agreement on confidentiality. If resolution is achieved, a written statement of resolution, including terms and conditions, shall be signed by the same persons who signed the written agreement outlining the process, and they shall agree on any matters to be disclosed to third parties. If the resolution results in a change of ministerial status, the disclosure agreement shall not prevent the disciplinary disclosures required for possible readmission.

12. See Judicial Council Decision 695.
13. See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 765.

From The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.

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