Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Dispatch From The Legal Front

As we've seen, the various Rector, Wardens, and Vestry cases are winding down in sometimes inconclusive ways. However, there's also an outlier case that doesn't actually involve the parish but continues to draw interest. This is the California unemployment claim that Fr Kelley made against the Bush group masquerading as the St Mary's vestry between 2012 and 2014, when the California appeals court ruled that the elected vestry was the legal vestry.

The Bush group "terminated" Fr Kelley in May 2012, and Fr Kelley made an unemployment compensation claim on that basis. The Bush group denied the claim on the basis that they maintained Fr Kelley had stolen money from the parish. Over a series of appeals lasting several years, the California Employment Department determined that no evidence existed of any such misconduct on Fr Kelley's part, and it eventually awarded him full benefits. On the other hand, by that point, the appeals court had already determined that the Bush group was not the legal vestry.

Nevertheless, the Bush group brought suit, Case BS152017, against the California Employment Department still seeking to deny the benefits (the California EDD had presumably seized the parish's share of the benefit payment to give to Fr Kelley). Yesterday there was another hearing in this continuing matter. A report on the last hearing, held December 9 of last year, is here.

The issue at that time was that the Bush group, which still claimed to be the parish vestry (although the appeals court had ruled it was not in 2014), was, or at least claimed to be, a corporation. But under California law, a corporation must be represented by an attorney. However, as of September 2017, Lancaster & Anastasia had withdrawn as the Bush group's attorneys, claiming they hadn't been paid since 2015. Judge Hogue continued the case until March 7, 2018, yesterday, to give the group more time to hire counsel.

I wasn't there -- I haven't covered this case directly, since it doesn't involve the parish, and Fr Kelley at this point is just an "interested party". But I'm told things went this way:

Mrs Bush and Mr Cothran turned up today for the "Order to Show Cause" before Judge Amy D. Hogue, on the BS152017 case. Mrs Bush did not do well. The judge reminded her again that a corporation must be represented by an attorney, under California law. Mrs Bush is not an attorney. She said their attorney was in Las Vegas.

The judge answered, "He is not HERE. You have had since December!"

Then Mrs Bush said, "Anastasia, our attorney, is disabled."

Judge: "He quit this case in September. That is irrelevant."

Mrs Bush made some other statements.

Judge, "I'm not hearing this."

More statements.

Judge, "I'm not hearing this."

Mr Lengyel-Leahu, who was present, stated that he IS the attorney for the Parish, and that this was a case where the opposition Bush group was not, as the California Court of Appeal had ruled in July, 2014; and Judge Murphy had found them "without standing" from the beginning of litigation, on December 12, 2016.

Judge Hogue said, "Well, that's not in documents that I can act on today. If this were presented as a demurrer, perhaps then I could do something." She kicked the can to June 8 -- another three months. The state attorney, Christina Matsuyama, was to be out of country on June 1.

When we emerged from the court, Mr Omeirs was seated in the hall. He looked quite sepulcral. Mrs Bush and Mr Cothran sat with him. The state attorney tried to talk with them. Came away rather bemused.

What’s interesting is that the Bush group had an attorney make a “special appearance” on their behalf at a trial setting conference for the damages case on January 5, but apparently they haven’t engaged any regular counsel. This makes me wonder if, although they’re pretty much off the hook in the damages case, they’re in a position to hire an attorney to follow through on the reversal of the Strobel ruling.

My guess is that it would be a pretty major job to say OK, the parish vote to leave the ACA in August 2012 was invalid, but with the 2012 elected vestry still the vestry per the 2014 appeals court ruling, how does the ACA move to evict them in 2018? Seems like new counsel could basically rebuild Lancaster’s 2012 case from scratch, insisting that A, B, C, and D were excommunicated by the ACA, the corporation code was not followed in any number of ways between 2014 and now or whatever, and try to remove a post-2014 vestry, but this would take money I assume they don’t have.

So far, in any case, there doesn't seem to have been any move to follow up on the appeals division's reversal of Judge Strobel's 2015 ruling. This in turn makes me wonder if, without access to the parish's bank accounts and current income, the Bush group and the ACA have no money to front up hundreds of thousands to try to pursue this. My guess is that Fr Kelley and the vestry are simply going to sit tight. In January, I thought about a settlement, but this was on the assumption that the Bush group and the ACA had the resources to pursue the case.

Mrs Bush will turn 88 this year. At this point, I would guess that time is on the parish's side, and I'm starting to question whether Mrs Bush is fully capable of following the legal issues.