An initial timetable has been set for attorneys to prepare for a trial in the state court case filed by a breakaway group against The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
A separate federal lawsuit is still before the U.S. District Court in Charleston, and a hearing in that case is scheduled for August 8.
On July 11, a status conference was held in St. George before South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein involving the lawsuit was filed in January by a group of former church leaders and 34 parishes in eastern South Carolina who say they have “disassociated” from The Episcopal Church. Their suit seeks control of the name, seal and properties of the diocese. The group continues to call itself “The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina.”
At Thursday’s conference, Judge Goodstein set a timetable for moving forward in preparation for a trial, according to Thomas S. Tisdale, Jr., Chancellor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
The judge allowed 90 days for all parties to complete written discovery, the fact-finding process that takes place after a lawsuit and before trial, in which each side requests information and written documents from the other parties.
Judge Goodstein allowed an additional 120 days after discovery is completed for the taking of depositions, which are the testimony of parties or witnesses taken before the trial begins.
If that timetable is followed – and Mr. Tisdale said Judge Goodstein indicated she could allow for some extensions if needed – then the deposition phase would conclude around February 5, 2014. A trial date is not expected to be set until after the pre-trial proceedings, Mr. Tisdale said.
The defendants in the suit are The Episcopal Church and its local diocese, which is currently using the name “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.” Its bishop is the Right Reverend Charles G. vonRosenberg, who was elected by local Episcopalians in January after Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted Mark Lawrence’s renunciation of his orders as a bishop in The Episcopal Church.
A separate federal lawsuit is still before U.S. District Judge C. Weston Houck. Filed in March by Bishop vonRosenberg against Bishop Lawrence, it asks the court to find that only Bishop vonRosenberg, as The Episcopal Church’s recognized bishop, should control the name and marks of the diocese.
Attorneys for Bishop Lawrence have made a motion to have the federal case dismissed, or for the court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction, or stay the proceedings pending the outcome of the state Circuit Court case. Judge Houck has scheduled a hearing on that motion for August 8.
The federal suit, vonRosenberg v. Lawrence, cites federal trademark law and a 1976 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese v. Milivojevich. Under that decision, civil courts may not interfere in decisions made by hierarchical churches, such as The Episcopal Church, about decisions as to who is the true bishop of a diocese.