Truro Church and The Falls Church Appeal; Epiphany Settles
Late Friday came word (H/T: Baby Blue) that Truro Church in Virginia (to be joined by The Falls Church) had filed a Notice of Appeal from the January 2012 decision of Judge Bellows awarding all of the Anglican (CANA) parishes’ real and personal property to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, as finalized in a judgment just a few weeks ago. (A copy of the Notice of Appeal by The Falls Church is attached to its motion for a stay of judgment, linked in the next paragraph.)
The Notices were accompanied by motions to stay enforcement of the judgment, and to set the amount of the parties’ supersedeas bonds on appeal. Ordinarily when a party appeals from a civil judgment, the party which prevailed below may still execute on the judgment pending the appeal. In the cases of Truro Church and The Falls Church, for instance, the Diocese could still take possession of all their property and bank accounts which Judge Bellows had ordered them to surrender, notwithstanding their having taken appeals.
To prevent having to surrender all of their properties, the two churches have asked Judge Bellows to stay the enforcement of his judgment, pending a final decision on appeal. In such cases, the court may grant a stay only upon condition that the parties post sufficient bonds (called “supersedeas bonds”, because they take the place of the judgment until it becomes final) in such amounts as the court decides. Such bonds are filed with the court clerk in the form either of cash, or of an irrevocable letter of credit in the required amount.
To fix the amount of the bond each appellant will have to post, Judge Bellows will first hear arguments from both sides next April 20. The Diocese will argue for the maximum amount possible – probably, the total fair market value of all of the parish properties, plus their bank accounts and other personal property. That sum would come to many millions of dollars, and the Diocese’s object in asking for it would be to try to impoverish the parishes so that they did not have sufficient funds to pay their attorneys. (The Diocese did not stint on making such punitive requests of the court earlier, and there is no reason to expect it to act any differently now—pace Bishop Johnston.)
The parishes have argued in their motions that the amount of the bonds should be set far lower. They offer to maintain and keep up each of their respective properties pending the appeal, and point out that the Diocese’s remnant congregations are too small to be able either to make full use of them, or to pay for their upkeep and preservation pending the appeal. The Falls Church offers to pay into court by April 30 the sums the Court ordered it to turn over, plus ongoing interest at 6% on that amount. (Truro Church submits that the amount of money it would have to turn over under the Court’s order is zero.) It will be up to Judge Bellows to decide on the appropriate amount, given all of the circumstances presented to him by the parties.
It is not known at this writing what other CANA parishes who lost before Judge Bellows will be joining the appeals filed to date. (The deadline for filing—30 days from entry of the judgment on March 1—falls on a Saturday, so presumably any other parties would have until Monday within which to file their notices.) However, one parish that will not be doing so is the Church of the Epiphany, in Herndon. On Friday, it and the Episcopal Diocese announced they had reached a settlement, pursuant to which the Church will pay the Diocese $520,750 over the next two years, without interest, and will vacate its extensive facilities on Hidden Meadow Drive by April 30 (except for its day school, which will remain until the end of the school year).
The appeals that have been filed may best be seen as protective in nature (although they also could indicate the parties’ inability to reach a settlement in light of the quasi-punitive post-judgment rulings obtained by the Diocese following Judge Bellows’ decision). By appealing the judgment, the parishes will prevent its becoming final against them before they know how the United States Supreme Court will respond to the three petitions recently filed in similar church property cases from Georgia and Connecticut.
In Virginia, appeals from civil judgments are entirely within the discretion of the Virginia Supreme Court – there is no right to appeal a civil judgment, but only a criminal one. (The Virginia Courts of Appeal hear only criminal appeals. The Virginia Supreme Court hears both types of cases, but only the ones which it agrees to accept for briefing and oral argument.)
If the Virginia Supreme Court declines to take the Anglican parishes’ appeals, then they will have a further ninety days from any such refusal to file a petition for review of Judge Bellows’ decision by the United States Supreme Court. Likewise, if the Virginia Court agrees to hear the appeals, then in the event it affirms Judge Bellows’ ruling, the parishes would also have ninety days from the date any such decision becomes final to file a petition for certiorari (review) in the United States Supreme Court.
Were the parishes not to appeal Judge Bellows’ decision now, therefore, and were the United States Supreme Court subsequently to grant review in the Georgia and Connecticut cases, the Virginia parishes would not be able to ask that their cases be reviewed as well, because Judge Bellows’ decision would have become final in the interim. Thus they are protecting their eventual appeal rights and their properties by appealing now to the Virginia Supreme Court, and by asking for a stay of the judgment.
In sum, the Virginia cases are not over yet. Bishop Johnston’s confident editorial piece in Friday’s Washington Post now sounds a bit premature. (For a detailed fisking of that editorial, see my post here.) Next week will perhaps bring us more news of just which other CANA parishes are either agreeing to settle, or acting to protect their appeal options.
And perhaps by the end of May, we will have word from the U. S. Supreme Court as to whether its justices want to hear any of these troublesome church property cases, and lay out a clearer rule than the diametrically opposed ones we have now.
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