Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Could Go Wrong? -- II

Yesterday, we made a rough estimate of the real estate assets of the St Mary of the Angels corporation. There are numerous other assets, such as altar furnishings, vestments, sculpture, art, religious artifacts, memorabilia, books, kitchen and office equipment, and so forth, some of which have been plundered in past years (such as documents containing the signatures of Hollywood figures), some of which have been plundered (or "taken for safekeeping") by the current group of squatters, and some of which may remain. As of 2012, there was also a safe deposit box containing jewelry that had been bequeathed to the parish. The value of these, while probably significant, is hard to estimate.

All of this material could be sold if the corporation elected to dissolve. The California Attorney General's guide to dissolving a non-profit specifies only that this may be done by a majority of the corporation's board of directors "or" a majority of its membership. The St Mary of the Angels bylaws do not cover how the corporation may be dissolved, only that this would presumably be done under the provisions of California corporation law. We know that the unelected "vestry" now pretending to be the corporation's board of directors would vote to do whatever the core group of dissidents wished -- if there were any disagreement, Frederick Rivers would remove any dissidents and replace them. The record shows this sort of thing has already been done. If anyone successfully argued that a general meeting of the membership would be needed, we've already seen how the ACA and Mrs Bush handle general meetings -- only supporters are allowed entry, whether they are qualified members-in-good-standing eligible to vote or not.

To some extent, I have to act like an amateur criminal profiler here to figure out what the dissident group's intentions are. I don't believe their dispute is doctrinal, other than some say they would prefer to be catholic rather than Catholic, but still use the capital-C but not quite -- I don't believe you could get much more than that out of, say, Mrs Bush or Mr Omeirs, and probably not even that much from the others. (For that matter, it would be an interesting exercise to try to get "Bishop" Williams to list, say, the seven sacraments without a crib sheet.) I simply assume that many of this group have in fact removed items from the parish, and whatever the stated intent, those items will not return. So petty personal aggrandizement is probably a motive among many in the group.

But the stakes are bigger than that. Even a parish tithe out of $20,000 monthly income is probably not what Brian Marsh wants to realize from the seizure when millions can be had with little more effort than has been expended so far. Marsh himself told a parishioner during his late-night visit in May 2012 that "it's about money". I've thought from the start that a very strong motive for the seizure could be to close the parish and sell the assets -- once the corporation is wound up, the proceeds would then go to a worthy non-profit that shares the goals of the former corporation -- to wit, the ACA. Less assorted payoffs, commissions, consulting fees, and lagniappes,of course. As I say, Marsh has likely been looking the other way as some of these have already been distributed.

The problem has been that the legalities haven't been a slam dunk. On balance, only two things went the ACA's way: the initial seizure via a temporary restraining order in May 2012, which was dissolved two weeks later, and Judge Linfield's ruling at the trial later that year, overturned on appeal. Everything else has gone against them, and a sale of the property would be very difficult given the ongoing litigation. Crooks don't think long term, and this group is having to think that way.

What are the likely outcomes, and what strategies might the elected vestry consider?