The Episcopal Church in South Carolina has asked the South Carolina Court of Appeals to overturn a judge’s ruling and grant the continuing diocese access to vital documents from the attorney who represented it before the schism, and who now represents the breakaway group led by Bishop Mark Lawrence.
The appeal, filed Monday, has the effect of staying the case that is currently before Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein in Dorchester County.
At issue is correspondence between Beaufort attorney C. Alan Runyan and Bishop Lawrence prior to November 17, 2012 that relates to the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church. Mr. Runyan was legal counsel for the diocese prior to that date, which is when leaders of the breakaway group met and purported to “withdraw” from The Episcopal Church. Bishop Lawrence is no longer a bishop in TEC, and Mr. Runyan now represents the breakaway group, which is suing TEC and TECSC in state court seeking control of the diocese.
TECSC is recognized by The Episcopal Church as the continuing diocese in this region, and any attorney-client privilege that existed prior to the withdrawal belongs to TECSC, not the plaintiffs, according to a memorandum in support of the “Motion to Compel Production of Documents” filed in October.
Prior to the withdrawal, Mr. Runyan represented the then-unified diocese, which included both members of TECSC and the breakaway diocese. Thus, he jointly represented parties on both sides of the case, and TECSC should be entitled to the documents.
Judge Goodstein denied the motion November 18. Her order favors the breakaway group’s argument that TECSC did not exist until January 2013 – the date when the diocese held a special convention called by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to reorganize after the departure of Bishop Lawrence and other church leaders. The breakaway group continues to operate under the name “Diocese of South Carolina” and obtained a temporary order from Judge Goodstein barring the continuing diocese from using the name.
The case is currently in the discovery phase, with each side requesting and producing thousands of pages of written documents as evidence. Through that process, TECSC is finding evidence of long-held plans by diocesan leaders to leave The Episcopal Church. Earlier court filings by TECSC say that the 2012 “withdrawal” was the result of a scheme by several individuals that began as early as 2005.