Skip to comments.Strong Out Of The Gate [St. James Church]
Posted on 08/12/2005 1:01:57 PM PDT by sionnsar
The good guys are ahead in the early rounds:
St. James Church appeared to be on the verge of a legal victory Thursday after a judge issued a tentative ruling to dismiss a claim that the churchs property belongs to the national Episcopal Church.
Because Judge David Velasquezs ruling is tentative, it can be reversed when the case goes back to court Monday in Santa Ana, attorney Eric Sohlgren said. Sohlgren is the lead attorney for St. James Church.
Diocese spokeswoman Janet Kawamoto had no immediate comment Thursday. Attorneys representing the diocese could not be reached.
Velasquez is not obligated to issue any ruling Monday, Sohlgren said. The purpose of a tentative ruling is to help attorneys prepare legal arguments for future hearings.
"There were many hours of oral argument today, and that will continue Monday," he said.
The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles filed suit against St. James in September 2004 after the Newport Beach church and two other Southern California congregations broke away from the diocese and the Episcopal Church of the United States in protest of the national churchs liberal positions on Biblical authority, the divinity of Jesus Christ and homosexual marriage.
After leaving the national church, St. James affiliated with the Diocese of Luwero in the Anglican province of Uganda, Africa. The Los Angeles dioceses lawsuit alleged St. James property belongs to the national church, not the Via Lido congregation.
If Velasquez issues a final ruling consistent with the tentative one, Sohlgren said St. James will be able to maintain ownership of the churchs building, hymnals, vestments and all other property.
Sohlgren argued that the dioceses case was not about property but actually an attempt to stifle St. James free speech after it left the diocese in protest of the national churchs doctrinal stances.
"Because the steps taken by the defendants to disassociate themselves from the religious views of the Church constitute acts in furtherance of the exercise of defendants right to free speech on a matter of public interest, the complaint is subject to a special motion to strike," Velasquez wrote in his tentative ruling.
Sohlgren said the church also contended the Newport congregation would have ultimately prevailed in the lawsuit. In the tentative ruling, Velasquez wrote the diocese had not shown that it would probably win the lawsuit on the merits of the case. Velasquez wrote that the dioceses argument is not based on California law. Instead, the diocese argued the court must defer to church law.
If Velasquezs final ruling favors St. James, the churchs legal issues will not be over, Sohlgren said. A countersuit filed by St. James in June would still be alive. In that suit, the church claimed the diocese breached a contract in which the diocese issued a written pledge to not try to take St. James property.
Emphasize the word "tentative" in this story. This ruling by no means settles the issue. But it is an encouraging first step.
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