Decision Number 1237
Review of a Bishop's Decision of Law at the Western Jurisdictional Conference Regarding the Relationship Between ¶2711.2 and the Resolution "The Sense of the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference"
The Bishop's decision that the question is moot is not affirmed. The matter is remanded to the bishop for a substantive ruling on the question of law within thirty days, and the Judicial Council retains jurisdiction.
Statement of Facts
The minutes of the Daily Proceedings of the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference reflect that on July 20, 2012, the Western Jurisdictional Conference, following discussion and vote, adopted a Resolution titled "Sense of the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church, Paragraph 304.3". It reads as follows:
"Whereas the Constitution of The United Methodist Church reserves to the Clergy members of each Annual Conference the exclusive right to vote "on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members," [The Constitution, ¶33, 2008 Book of Discipline, p.31]; And whereas The United Methodist Church reserves to clergy members of each Jurisdiction the exclusive right to sit on a trial court if a bishop from that jurisdiction is charged and tried for a violation or a disciplinary provision [¶2712, 2008 Book of Discipline, p.773]; And whereas The Book of Discipline establishes among the laws of the Church that "… self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church"[2008 Book of Discipline, ¶304.3, p.206]; And whereas the Western Jurisdiction has adopted resolutions and statements that are specifically welcoming of people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity;
Be it hereby resolved that the sense of the Western Jurisdiction is that if any bishop of the Western Jurisdiction be charged with ordaining or appointing a self-avowed practicing homosexual, and after due Disciplinary process is tried and convicted of such an offense, that an appropriate penalty to assign would be the suspension of said convicted bishop from the exercise of episcopal office [2008 Book of Discipline, ¶2712.6, p.774] for a period of 24 consecutive hours." A lay member of the Jurisdictional Conference presented a question of law pertaining to the resolution. The text of the question of law as was presented is as follows: "In the light of ¶2711.2 of the 2008 Book of Discipline, which says, in relevant part, "The trial court shall determine the penalty," what is the force in law on the penalty phase of any trial conducted within the bounds of the jurisdiction of the resolution entitled "The Sense of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church," adopted by the 1012 Western Jurisdictional Conference". The layperson orally asked the question of law and subsequently submitted it in writing in accordance with the rules of the 2008 Book of Discipline.
On July 22, 2012, one day after the adjournment of the Western Jurisdictional Conference on July 21, 2012, the layperson forwarded an email to the bishop advising him that the question of law as it was written and submitted on July 20, 2012 had a "typographical error." The error was that the disciplinary reference in the question of law should have been ¶ 2711.3 and not ¶ 2711.2. The Bishop issued his decision of law on August 7, 2012. For clarity, we include the full text of the bishop's decision of law: "The decision: The petition is flawed in that the paragraph cited (¶2711.2) has no language to support the pretense of the question. The question is therefore declared moot." Briefs were filed by the bishop, the questioner and an amicus curiae.
The Judicial Council has jurisdiction under ¶ 2609 of the 2008 Discipline.
Analysis and Rationale
The Judicial Council has, in several decisions, determined that typographical or other errors in posing questions do not necessarily negate the legitimacy of the questions. In other instances, the Judicial Council has ignored or overlooked errors that do not affect the facts of the case or the outcome of a trial. See Decisions 2, 240, 962, and 1226. In the instant case, the bishop argues that the question is moot because the reference disciplinary paragraph (¶ 2711.2) does not contain the language that is the premise of the question (i.e, "…The trial court shall determine the penalty…"). The language that is quoted in the question of law is in ¶ 2711.3, not in ¶ 2711.2 as stated in the question. In an e-mail sent to the bishop subsequent to Jurisdictional Conference but sixteen days prior to the bishop's decision, he was made aware of the error. However, even if he was not made aware of the error, the bishop could have sua sponte noticed and corrected same.
Although the questioner referenced an irrelevant disciplinary paragraph, he quoted the correct paragraph, so his intent is clear. The phrase "the trial court shall determine the penalty", though not in ¶ 2711.2 , is in ¶ 2711.3. Hence, the error was obvious, easily ascertainable, and could have been easily remedied. We would like to note that from records of the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference, as culled from the minutes of Plenary Session 9, we observed that the records state that the question of law was made on July 12, 2012. This July 12, 2012, date is also contained in the Bishop's Report to the Judicial Council. We further observed that the Western Jurisdictional Conference was held from Wednesday, July 19 – Friday, July 21, 2012. Hence, reference to July 12, 2012, must have been an error as there was no plenary session held on July 12, 2012. However, this is a harmless error that does not in any material way affect the matter.
Further, from the minutes we also observed that the question was presented as follows "...the resolution entitled "The Sense of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church," adopted by the 1012 (sic) Western Jurisdictional Conference". If the minutes are taken as true and correct, which they should be, then the bishop's ruling of law is inconsistent with the argument in his brief that "…The presiding officer must rule based on the written language submitted for the official record of the proceedings by the petitioner. The bishop cannot assume the authority to correct the language based on a private statement of the petitioner's intent after the fact and after the adjournment of the plenary session in which the question was posed..." This is because the bishop in his ruling of law failed to address the issue of the incorrectly stated year of the Western Jurisdictional Conference, but he corrected same in his brief. There was never a 1012 Western Jurisdictional Conference. This is obviously an error. However, this error is harmless. An error that does not affect a matter should not be allowed to defeat the interest of justice. The bishop is required to provide a ruling based on the clearly stated intent of the questioner.
The bishop's decision that the question is moot is not affirmed. The matter is remanded to the bishop for a substantive ruling on the question of law within thirty days, and the Judicial Council retains jurisdiction.
Beth Capen and Ruben Reyes were absent.
Sandra Lutz, first lay alternate, and Warren Plowden, fifth lay alternate, participated in this decision.