Tuesday, January 22, 2013

I've Called This Blog A Cold Case File,

but yesterday I did mention a continuing campaign by the ACA of character assassination and legal harassment against Fr Kelley. One puzzling factor in this whole business is that the ACA and the parish dissidents haven't been satisfied just to get the rector off the payroll and out of the rectory, which would normally be the final goal of any parish and any church polity wanting to make a change. They're out to destroy Fr Kelley, indeed, to squash him like a bug. This is the utterly un-Christian part of this whole sorry saga.

Once Fr Kelley was ordered to vacate the rectory, a lengthy negotiation then ensued for his personal artifacts that had been in the parish office, including many of his books. Since May 2012, of course, he hadn't had access to the parish office, which was occupied by the dissidents on the main floor of the parish, and had had no chance to retrieve his personal property. While he and his family had been able to remove their property from the rectory once the court ordered them out, he still didn't have access to the parish office.

One would think that a parish made up of adults, even one controlled by a dissident rump, would then decide OK, he's out, we're well rid of him (justifiably or not), let's give him the chance to clean out his desk and take his books and other effects -- indeed, the sooner the better.

Didn't happen. Weeks went by, with the rump and the ACA insisting that the stars and the planets were not entirely in conjunction, the moment was not quite propitious, and of those who might be on the scene to assist Fr Kelley in removing such a quantity of items, not all were deemed fully acceptable. Some number of boxes was finally approved for release, but it's my understanding that this still isn't the full amount, and discussions of one sort or another are still under way. Why can't the rump just be done with the guy? Why the continued harassment?

By the same token, even with Anthony Morello permanently out of the picture, the ACA is continuing legal harassment of Fr Kelley. The charges, which will come up in a civil jury trial in the fall of 2013, are twofold as I understand them: First, that when the ACA seized the parish in late May 2012, it did so with three days remaining in the May pay period. Because Fr Kelley had received his May paycheck a couple of weeks earlier, although he was considered terminated three days prior to the end of May, he had been paid through the whole month. Thus, he was unjustifiably holding onto three days' pay.

Second, the vestry, while it still had control of the parish business accounts, signed a check as retainer to TroyGould PC, its law firm, to defend the parish in the actions the ACA had brought against it. As I've pointed out here several times, a rector is never signatory to parish business accounts, which are controlled by the vestry, with two authorized signers required, neither of whom is the rector. This was the case with Fr Kelley and St Mary of the Angels. Engaging a law firm to defend the parish corporation in a lawsuit was a prudent business decision aimed at protecting the corporation's assets. It was approved by the vestry, and the check was signed by authorized signers.

The ACA is now insisting that Fr Kelley forged the signatures of the authorized signers in order to hire TroyGould. A judge has already ruled that the signatures are not forged and are valid as part of Fr Kelley's attempt to secure unemployment benefits. The authorized signers will swear under oath that they signed the check and their signatures were not forged. Yet the ACA is pursuing this case.

I've had to ask my wife, a retired attorney, to explain this to me several times, because I keep having some basic questions: (1) if the parish really believes Fr Kelley owes them three days pay, why not go to small claims court? Why pay an attorney far more than the three days' pay to have a jury trial over this? (2) if the ACA really believes Fr Kelley forged a check, why not go to the district attorney and file criminal charges?

My wife's answer is this. The bottom line is that there's no way the DA will take a case where the people whose signatures are on the check say gee, that's my signature, nobody forged it, and here's why. So the ACA has to take it to a civil trial, where the standards are different. In a criminal trial, there has to be proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The DA couldn't possibly get that in this case. In a civil trial, the proof depends on a preponderance of evidence. There might be a chance a jury would believe that, even though the people who signed the check testify under oath that they signed it, Fr Kelley could have hypnotized them or something and actually forged it anyhow.

To bolster that case, the ACA needs the second charge, that Kelley stole three days' pay. The amount isn't important, they're spending far more than that for attorneys to argue the case. And that, by the way, appears to be the bottom line from a year full of allegations and innuendo regarding Fr Kelley: the late Vicar General darkly insisted, in comment after comment on various blogs, that the IRS and the DA would both be on Kelley's trail, the truth would be made known, it all would come out in court. Well, it's coming out. You decide.

Morello's death does pose problems for the ACA, since they will need to have someone else supervise the legal work on the case, and he's no longer available to testify or give depositions. The outcome of the appeal process could also affect the case. However, the cost of the legal representation has now become more than the parish's law firm can handle on a pro bono basis.

Please review the appeal for help in this matter at the Freedom for St Mary blog.