Episcopal Church smacked down by Illinois & South Carolina judges

Illinois judge says TEC’s bullying and intimidation must stop; he’s had enough
South Carolina court frees TECinSC to move on down the road toward the appellate highway

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
www.virtueonline.org
Feb. 25, 2015

The Episcopal Church (TEC) has a tiring triple-fold mantra:   1) The “hierarchical” claim; 2) Parishes cannot leave the diocese and dioceses cannot leave the church argument; and 3) The “What’s mine is mine, what’s yours is mine, too” mindset, as revealed through the Dennis Canon so therefore “we’ll sue you until we get it our way through on-going litigation and break you financially in the arduous legal process.” It doesn’t matter what court or in which state the litigation happens, TEC’s war cry is the same.

One Illinois circuit court judge has had enough. Three times last Friday (Feb. 20, he told The Episcopal Church to cease and desist in his court order seeking to bring The Episcopal Church under control. Adams County, Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Mark Drummond emphatically told The Episcopal Church that the top-down bullying and intimidation of the Diocese of Quincy and its financial institution will stop … immediately.

“Defendants/Counterplaintiff/Counterclaimant-in-Intervention [The Episcopal Church] are hereby directed to cease and desist in any attempts to prevent the distribution of, to claim any ownership or interest to, any of the funds in the single account held by National City Bank, a banking corporation, n/k/a PNC Bank, National Association for The Diocese of Quincy…

“Defendants/Counterplaintiff/Counterclaimant-in-Intervention [The Episcopal Church] are hereby directed to cease and desist in any attempts to request the Circuit Court of Peoria County or any other jurisdiction to modify or overrule the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court or the final judgment rendered in the above-entitled cause…

“Defendants/Counterplaintiff/Counterclaimant-in-Intervention [The Episcopal Church] are hereby directed to cease and desist in any attempts to collaterally attack the final judgment in the above-entitled cause…”

South Carolina judge denies TEC’s Motion

Then on Monday, the Diocese OF South Carolina’s (DIOofSC) Chancellor Alan Runyan, with the still hot Illinois ruling in hand, filed a formal response to The Episcopal Church IN South Carolina’s (TECinSC) Rule 59e Motion to Reconsider in which he asked South Carolina’s First Judicial Court Judge Diane Goodstein to have the Defendants (TECinSC) “move on down the road, in pursuit of whatever appellate remedies they seek … allowing the Defendants to continue on the appellate highway they seem intent on traveling.”

“The law is intended to be, and in fact is, a highway for litigants to travel until the destination of justice is reached,” the DIOofSC chancellor reminded the South Carolina judge in his response to TECinSC’s Rule 59e motion. “It is not a carousel on which litigants are to ride in never-ending circular journeying.”

In a short two-page order, the South Carolina judge succinctly denied TECinSC’s 180-page Motion to Reconsider her 46-page February 3 ruling in which she declared: 1) DIOofSC, churches belonging to the Diocese OF South Carolina, their vestries and wardens are in fact the true owners of the real, personal and intellectual properties of the Diocese; 2) that TECinSC have no legal, beneficial or equitable interest in DIOofSC real, personal or intellectual properties; 3) that TECinSC and The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC) are permanently enjoined from using the identity names, seal and mark of The Episcopal Diocese OF South Carolina and its various congregations.

“The Court finds that the (TECinSC) motion raised no novel issues for the Court’s consideration,” the judge wrote on Monday (Feb. 23). “Large portions of the motion are simply the proposed orders previously submitted to the Court or reiterations of the Defendant’s positions at trial. The Court finds that the Judicial Estoppel argument is without merit.

“With regards all other matters presented in Defendants’ Motion for Reconsideration, they are hereby DENIED,” she continued with added emphasis. “AND IT IS SO ORDERED!” She also noted on the case disposition form that “This Order ends the case (2013CP1800013),” which was duly recorded at 5:07 p.m. on Feb. 23, 2015 by Cheryl Graham Clerk of Court for Dorchester County, South Carolina.

The Episcopal Church IN South Carolina has indeed decided to take the “appellate highway” noting on its website: “Judge Diane Goodstein today denied the motion for reconsideration filed by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina in the Dorchester County case. TEC[in]SC now has 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the South Carolina Court of Appeals.”

Illinois judge said Quincy won

“Although we thought the following conclusion was clear,” Illinois Circuit Court Judge Drummond wrote in starting out his three-tiered cease and desist order, “we will make it clear now: plaintiffs (the realigned Diocese of Quincy) won.

“The Order of October 9, 2013 is clear, unambiguous and not subject to nuance, interpretation or speculation as to its meaning.” the Illinois judge continued emphasizing “…any and all disputed funds, money, endowments and accounts held by National City Bank are hereby declared to be owned by Plaintiffs (Diocese of Quincy) without any claim by Defendants (The Episcopal Church).”

In late 2008, under the leadership of then Bishop Keith Ackerman (Quincy VIII), the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy became the third of five Episcopal dioceses to leave The Episcopal Church over widening theological differences. The other departing dioceses were: San Joaquin (2007); Pittsburgh (2008); Fort Worth (2008); and South Carolina (2012). The western Illinois diocese realigned with the more theologically conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and became a founding member of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In early 2009, The Episcopal Church reached out and had all diocesan multimillion-dollar funds frozen at City National Bank. This action is what started the legal litigation between the Diocese Quincy (Plaintiffs/Counterdefendants) and The Episcopal Church (Defendants/Counterplaintiff/Counterclaimant-in-Intervention).

Episcopal Church intimidates bank to freeze accounts

Illinois Judge Drummond found that TEC used threats and intimidation in forcing an Illinois bank to freeze the Diocese of Quincy’s finances and keeping the bank cowering under its thumb.

In late 2008, following the bursting of the housing bubble, National City Bank, an Ohio-based financial institution, was sold to PNC Financial group, a Pennsylvania-based financial service. The various Illinois National City branch banks changed their corporate name to PNC Bank in 2010 after the original lawsuit was filed in the spring of 2009 and before the name change.

“During the argument on these issues, TEC argued that it did not freeze the account. PNC did,” Judge Drummond explained. “To say this argument lacks merit would be charitable. While TEC, in a very literal sense, is correct on ‘who’ froze the account, the ‘why’ is the more important issue. PNC froze the account because it received a letter from counsel for TEC which threatened to hold PNC liable if funds were disbursed.”

He further explained that TEC continued to bully the bank into refreezing the funds even after his judicial brother Eighth Judicial Circuit and Court Associate Judge Thomas Ortbal ruled on Oct. 9, 2013, that the realigned Diocese of Quincy is the real owner of the real and personal property of the diocese including all the bank accounts, monies, and endowments.

By the time Judge Ortbal’s October 9, 2013 ruling came down, the legal entity of the “Episcopal Diocese of Quincy” — TEC’s rump diocese — no longer existed. A month before it had became the Peoria Deanery within the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago when it was folded back into its larger parent diocese from which it was originally carved in 1877.

Judge Ortbal found that in early January 2009, the Chancellor (David Booth Beers) for The Episcopal Church “wrote to officers of National City Bank alleging that TEC had an enforceable interest in the funds of Diocese of Quincy deposited and invested with National City Bank.” The bank capitulated and three days later froze all of the Diocese of Quincy’s monies, funds, and endowments and stated they “would not make any further distribution of the funds until the matter was resolved.”

Judge Ortbal resolves the money issue

On October 9, 2013, Judge Ortbal legally resolved that issue. He ruled that “any and all disputed funds, money, endowments and accounts held by National City Bank n/k/a PNC Bank, National Association are hereby declared to be owned by Plaintiffs (Diocese of Quincy) without any claim by Defendants (The Episcopal Church), Counterclaimant or Counterclaimants-in-Intervention; and that National City Bank n/k/a PNC Bank, National Association is immediately directed to release all holds and restrictions on the above-described funds, money, endowments and accounts of the Diocese of Quincy and [its] trustees.”

Judge Ortbal’s order was issued on Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013. By Friday, Oct. 11, 2013, The Episcopal Church had quickly hustled to another court seeking a stay order to keep Judge Ortbal’s ruling from going into effect and to keep the funds frozen. TEC filed a motion to stay enforcement of Judge Ortbal’s judgment pending its appeal to the Illinois Fourth District Court of Appeals in Springfield and the appellate court granted the stay thus refreezing the bank accounts and legally prohibiting the Diocese of Quincy any access to its frozen money.

This was not Judge Ortbal’s first go-around with The Episcopal Church. In 2011, he initially rejected TEC’s claim that The Episcopal Church is a thoroughly hierarchical structure from the General Convention through the diocese and down to the local parish thus derailing TEC’s fondest hopes that he would give them a clear cut summary judgment, forcing the case into a bench trial before him to determine the rightful ownership of diocesan real and personal properties along with bank accounts. The October 2013 ruling was the result of that bench trial.

The Episcopal Church shows “bad faith”

“The Court finds,” Judge Drummond explained, “that the continued threat made to PNC Bank to hold it accountable if funds were disbursed and the continued attempt to collaterally attach the clear order of this court dated October 9, 2013 even after this case had run its course through the appellate process constitutes bad faith, is not grounded in fact or existing law and had resulted in needless, ongoing and expensive litigation.”

Judge Drummond was not pleased with TEC’s court hopping in an attempt to get a favorable ruling in order to over turn Judge Ortbal’s order. Less than a month after Judge Ortbal’s ruling, Episcopal Bishop Jeffrey Lee (XII Chicago) filed a lawsuit in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court in Peoria, Illinois, seeking for the new court to force the Diocese of Quincy to “relinquish control of buildings and other assets that belong to the diocese (of Chicago) and the (Episcopal) church.” After the Episcopal Diocese of Quincy ceased to exist and was folded into the Diocese of Chicago Bishop Lee felt he had, as the Bishop of Chicago, the right to lay legal claim to all the spoils, including the multimillion dollar bank accounts, and endowments; and that the Quincy-based Eighth Judicial Circuit Court in Adams County, Illinois, did not have the proper “jurisdiction to decide this issue.”

“TEC attempted to circumvent the Order of October 9, 2013, by communicating with PNC Bank whereby TEC claimed an interest in a portion of the funds about which this Court rules, when it (TEC) knew that the entire account had been awarded to the Plaintiffs (Diocese of Quincy) and all of its claims to the account had been denied,” Judge Drummond continued. “Further, TEC attempted to collaterally attack and circumvent the Order of the Court (which was affirmed by the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court and for which the Illinois Supreme Court denied TEC’s Petition for Leave to Appeal) by attempting to put the account at PNC at issue in Peoria County, Illinois when it knew that issue regarding this since account had been decided.”

PNC Bank did not attend the latest Feb. 17 court skirmish between The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Quincy, but communicated with the Court that it would “honor the decision of the Court regarding the funds.”

TEC’s all or nothing approach

Since TEC did lose on the circuit court level and could not walk away with the entire amount, TECs’ attorneys attempted to do an end run around the court ruling by attempting to claim a smaller portion of Quincy’s financial holdings.

Judge Drummond cut TEC off at the pass after he noted that TEC was employing an “all or nothing” approach to litigation.

“The Court does not know why this approach was taken, but does know that the approach taken was an ‘all or nothing’ approach,” Judge Drummond wrote. “It appears to this Court that this is an ‘after the fact’ attempt to recover some of the funds. They (TEC) took an ‘all or nothing’ approach at trail and on appeal.”

TEC then zeroed in on lassoing $774,599 for itself by challenging the decision.

“… TEC evidently decided that if it could not get the whole account, it would then try to carve out a portion out of that account,” the judge explained. “Counsel for TEC sent a letter to PNC the day before the mandate would issue claiming that $774,599 of the funds were property of TEC and subject to a suit which was filed less than one month after the trial court’s decision in this case in Peoria County.”

The upshot was that even through Judge Ortbal ruled in favor of the Diocese of Quincy and released the funds, PNC was again intimidated by TEC to refreeze diocesan monies, which the bank did, pending a further ruling even though the court case had already been decided. The decision also worked its way through the appellate system but was rejected for review by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Judge Drummond upholds Judge Ortbal’s decision

“The judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs/Counterdefendants (Diocese of Quincy) and against Defendants/Counterplaintiffs/Counterclaimant-in-Intervention (The Episcopal Church) is hereby enforced,” he ordered.

Then Judge Drummond slapped The Episcopal Church with sanctions for its continued underhanded legal shenanigans and court high jinks. The Episcopal Church is “directed and ordered to pay any and all attorney’s fees incurred by Plaintiffs/Defendants (Diocese of Quincy) to Counter claims and Counterclaims-in-Intervention including Bishop Morales from December 30, 2014, forward regarding TEC’s purported claim of any ownership interest in or to any of the funds held in the single account by PNC Bank” as a result of the latest court skirmish over the separate $774,599 bank account.

The Adams County circuit court judge doesn’t seem to fully trust that TEC will follow his ruling, since it has already been proved that TEC didn’t abide by Judge Ortbal’s court order; so Judge Drummond is going to keep a wary eye on TEC to make sure it ponies up the attorneys’ fees and court costs for TEC’s latest court skirmish with the Diocese of Quincy incurred since Dec. 30, 2014.

“The Court will set an addition hearing if there is a controversy over the reasonableness of the fees incurred,” he ordered.

Retired Bishop Keith Ackerman was a man of few words in responding to the latest court ruling. “Thrilling,” he said. “To God be the glory.”

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

 

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