Memorandum Number 724
Involuntary Leave of Absence Procedures.
The bishop's decision concerning involuntary leave of absence is affirmed except as noted in the body of the decision.
Statement of Facts
In the 1994 clergy session of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, acting upon the recommendation of the Board of Ordained Ministry, the conference placed its member, Merrily Anderson on Involuntary Leave of Absence [Par. 448.1(b)].
During that session the Administrative Review Committee reported, in pertinent part, that:
The committee found that the process leading to the Board of Ordained Ministry's recommendation for Involuntary Leave of Absence was fully according to Disciplinary Procedures, PNW Guidelines, and recent Judicial findings. In fact, the ARC felt that the process was characterized by administrative restraint, with restrictive interpretations of the required process being followed.
Subsequent to the action of the Clergy Session, the Rev. Merrily Anderson presented twenty-three (23) questions of law to the bishop, stating:
Bishop McConnell, I bring these questions of law under 2613 of The Book of Discipline 1992 which calls upon you to make decisions of law that are then reported to the Judicial Council to pass upon, affirm, modify, or reverse.
The bishop ruled that:
The Administrative Review Committee (paragraph 448.1.b) declared the process to be done properly. I concur.
Most of the questions are based on alleged facts and are hypothetical in nature. I am not required to rule on such questions.
We affirm the bishop's decision, except as noted below. We now set forth our rationale for our decision.
The substance of the Petitioner's questions of law is whether proper procedure was followed according to Par. 2622. We believe it was.
Par. 448.1.b states:
There will be an Administrative Review Committee composed of three members and one alternate in full connection who are not members of the Cabinet, Board of Ordained Ministry, or Joint Review Committee. Its purpose shall be to ensure that the Disciplinary procedures for involuntary leave of absence were properly followed. The entire process leading to the recommendation for involuntary leave shall be reviewed by the Administrative Review Committee and it shall report its findings to the executive session of clergy members in full connection with the Annual Conference.
The Administrative Review Committee reviewed the procedures followed in this case, and declared them proper. The resident bishop concurred in that judgment. Upon review in this matter, we find that the Administrative Review Committee and the bishop ruled correctly, except as noted below.
The bishop's assertion that "Most of the questions are based on alleged facts and are hypothetical in nature. I am not required to rule on such questions. .. " would ordinarily be rejected and the matter subject to remand but for the documentation we have been provided by the bishop in response to Petitioner's brief.
When questions of law are presented to the bishop during the regular session of an Annual Conference, those questions must be answered either during the Annual Conference session or within thirty days after the close of the session. (Pars. 54 & 2613).
Within thirty days, the bishop ruled as above indicated. In response to the Petitioner's brief, the bishop provided the Judicial Council with additional information and the responses which he had prepared when first presented the questions of law. That additional information and the responses show that the factual basis for Petitioner's question is more expansive than indicated in Petitioner's documentation
After review of all of the information provided, we agree with the bishop's decision except as to the portion of the decision which affirms the "Joint Review Committee Procedures and Guidelines March 1, 1994," providing that the Joint Review Committee may hear testimony or information in the absence of the parties. We hold such procedure is a violation of Fair Process under Par. 2622 of the Discipline and that the parties must be present at all times during the Joint Review Committee sessions except during the committee's deliberation, unless the parties mutually agree otherwise. In the instant case, the fact that the correct procedure was not followed does not affect the outcome of the Decision. A review of the entire record reveals that while the parties were not together at the Joint Review Committee hearings, substantial efforts were made to correct the oversight in a later meetings. The Council, however, will look to the strict adherence of this Fair Process Procedure in all future cases coming before the Council. See Decision 723.