Memorandum Number 571


October 23, 1986

Appeal of John P. Carter and the Cross-Appeal of the Baltimore Annual Conference.


On May 31, 1985, the Rev. John P. Carter, a ministerial member of the Baltimore Conference, was charged with immorality and disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church by that conference's Committee on Investigation. In a trial which was concluded on September 17, 1985, he was acquitted of the charge of immorality and found guilty of disobedience. The penalty imposed was suspension for three years from the exercise of the functions of office, public confession in a worship service, and participation in counseling, supervised by the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Baltimore Conference.

The accused gave timely notice of appeal. The Court of Appeals of the Northeastern Jurisdiction heard and considered the appeal, and rendered its decision on April 9, 1986. The Court upheld the conviction, but reduced the period of suspension and removed the requirements of confession and counseling.

The accused then appealed to the Judicial Council. The Baltimore Annual Conference filed a cross-appeal. At an oral hearing on October 23, 1986, David Sloan appeared for the accused and Jane Dolkart appeared for the Baltimore Conference.

In its decision upholding the conviction the Court of Appeals stated:

B. EVIDENCE OF RACISM. Although the Court cannot say that the record was free of racism, we cannot rule that it was so pervasive as to have prejudiced the ultimate finding of guilt (2625.1(h))

In reducing the penalty the Court of Appeals stated:

Analysis of the record convinces the Court that there were errors and mitigating circumstances which, while not affecting the verdict, entitled the appellant to a reduction of the penalty. (2625.1(h) 2624.1(a).....

These include: 3. Indications of racism in the record.

At no place in its decision does the Court of Appeals state what indication or evidence of racism was "in the record." The Court may feel we live in a "racist society" or that some who testified were "racist." It said, however, the record had indications of racism and was not free of racism.

We do not take lightly a statement that there was racism in the record. It is a serious charge and if proven, may taint the entire proceeding. It is impossible for the Judicial Council to make a determination as to whether the proceeding was tainted with racism from the decision of the Court of Appeals.

Racism is a very serious concern. Charges of racism in the record of a judicial proceeding are particularly serious. The term racism should not be used lightly nor should it be used in a judicial proceeding to describe a view of society as a whole. If there is racism in the record of this case the Court of Appeals needs to be specific; if there was none it needs to be equally forthright.

We remand these proceedings to the Court of Appeals with instructions either to document its statements that "the Court cannot say that the record was free of racism" and that there were "indications of racism in the record" or expunge these statements from its decision. We further instruct the Court of Appeals to act in a timely manner so this matter may be considered by the Judicial Council at its regular meeting in the spring of 1987. REMANDED.

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