Friday, July 11, 2014

South Carolina Trial, Day 4: Judge Goodstein seeks to expedite proceedings

Judge Goodstein
ST. GEORGE, SC, JULY 11, 2014 – After listening to testimony from 18 parish witnesses in the trial to protect Diocese of South Carolina assets from seizure by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its local subsidiary, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), the judge asked all parties to help expedite the proceedings by working together to determine a set of undisputed facts. This follows the parishes effort to secure stipulations of the facts of their witnesses over two weeks ago which was rejected by TEC and TECSC.

The last two and a half days of trial were spent hearing virtually identical testimony from witnesses representing 18 parishes –half of those involved – who were all asked similar questions. During those two and a half days, neither TEC nor TECSC has objected to the introduction of evidence or exhibits.

Following Friday’s testimony, Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein asked all parties to meet and stipulate to undisputed facts. The net effect of such an effort will be to dramatically reduce the amount of time witnesses will testify. In essence, witnesses will be expected to testify only on matters which are contested by one side.

”What I have been listening to for four days is subject to stipulations,” said Judge Goodstein. “It may not have been appropriate to stipulate earlier, but there’s absolutely no question in my mind today. I can almost testify for everybody,” she said. “Start with corporate documents, then go to By laws, deeds, then quit claims, then marks. I’ve got it down.”

She allowed the attorneys time to discuss the matter. They agreed to meet on Sunday to go over testimony that can be stipulated.

This effort to reach consensus on basic facts should allow attorneys to spend more time probing the issues their side thinks is important to their case. The Diocese and attorneys for TEC and TECSC agreed to work through the weekend to identify the undisputed facts and documentary evidence. As a result, the trial should next week move quickly to the real issues in dispute.

Judge Goodstein said she wanted the trial completed next week. The Court had originally scheduled the trial to take place between July 7 and July 18. “We are grateful the judge has provided us an opportunity to focus our energies on the issues in question here,” said Jan Pringle, spokesperson for the Diocese. “Our goal is to protect the Diocese’s property and that of its parishes. We believe anything that permits the court to focus on the critical issues will protect the rights of our members.”

On Friday the Plaintiffs presented testimony from Trinity, Pinopolis; St. David’s, Cheraw; St. Helena’s, Beaufort; St. Bartholomew’s, Hartsville; Trinity, Myrtle Beach; St. Matthew’s, Darlington, and Saint James, James Island.

During Trinity Church, Myrtle Beach’s testimony, the defendant’s attorney David Booth Beers asked the witness Frank Sloan repeatedly why they removed references to the national Church from their corporate documents.

After Plaintiffs objected Judge Goodstein said, agreeing with the objection, that the questions asked “goes to justification of why the entities did what they did. My concern is more the structure of the government-are we pre 1900 or after, when was the incorporation, what were the By-Laws? There’s been too much focus on the justification for why they did what they did. As it stands we're not a hierarchical, state, we are for neutrality. The justification is interesting but not what I think should be the focus of this court.”

Suzanne Schwank, testifying for the Parish Church of St. Helena’s, Beaufort, brought a 1728 Prayer Book in which references to the royal family had been crossed out, a parish registry with an entry dating back to 1706 and parish vestry minutes dating to 1724. The Vestry minutes requested and empowered one Mr. John Kean to “procure a clergyman of the Episcopalian Church for the town of Beaufort SC” in 1784 prior to the formation of either the Diocese of South Carolina or The Episcopal Church.

The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.