The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has asked a judge for immediate action to stop members of a breakaway group from abusing the court’s subpoena power by attempting to force witnesses to give depositions in their lawsuit while the case is legally stayed pending an appeal.
The group has issued subpoenas for depositions that would begin this Friday, April 11 with George M. Hearn Jr., a member of St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Conway who holds no formal position with the diocese other than as a church member.
In a motion filed Tuesday, TECSC says that the groups calling themselves “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” and “The Trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Carolina” are in contempt of court, and asks Judge Diane S. Goodstein to impose sanctions on the attorneys issuing the subpoenas for violating her stay order.
“In disregard of appellate procedure and in contempt of the orders of this Court and the appellate courts, counsel for two of the Plaintiffs, acting as officers of this Court, have unlawfully issued and served subpoenas requiring witnesses to appear and be deposed as soon as this Friday,” the motion says.
“This abuse of process constitutes a pattern of misconduct and wrongful intimidation of those witnesses,” the motion says.
Attorneys for TECSC already filed a motion to quash the subpoenas on April 1. The groups named are two of the multiple plaintiffs who are suing local Episcopalians, seeking control of the name and assets of The Episcopal Church’s diocese in the eastern half of South Carolina. The breakaway group claims to have “withdrawn” the diocese from The Episcopal Church.
Fourteen subpoenas were attached to today’s motion. Two subpoenas seek depositions during Holy Week, a period of special devotion that begins on Palm Sunday (April 13) and ends with Easter Day. The Holy Week depositions involve a retired bishop, the Right Reverend John C. Buchanan, and Steve Skardon, who operates an independent website not affiliated with the church called “SCEpiscopalians.com” that has been critical of the breakaway group.
Others named in the subpoenas are the Bishop Charles G. vonRosenberg of TECSC; the Venerable Calhoun Walpole, Archdeacon of TECSC; retired Bishop Dorsey Henderson; and the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, whose offices are in New York City. The list also includes Standing Committee member Lonnie Hamilton, the Reverend Canon Michael Wright, the Reverend Dr. Jim Taylor; Holly Behre, Robert Black, Melinda Lucka, and Barbara Mann.
Starting in January, the breakaway group has been taking the unusual step of hiring a process server to track down local Episcopalians at their homes and workplaces and to serve subpoenas. Normally, deposition schedules are arranged cooperatively between attorneys for the parties.
Note: This article was revised on April 10, 2014 to include two individuals who have been subpoenaed and whose names inadvertently were omitted from the original version.