Allan Haley looks at the legal implications of the “Partial Restriction” of Jon Bruno’s ministry
The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, has now interposed his pastoral authority in the Title IV disciplinary proceedings against Bishop J. Jon Bruno, diocesan of Los Angeles, about which I wrote most recently here.
He has issued, effective immediately today, the following “Partial Restriction” on the ministry of Bishop Bruno:
Partial Restriction on the Ministry of a Bishop
In recent days, I have learned of actions that, in my view, may threaten the good order and welfare of the Church. I have learned that, earlier this year, the Rt. Rev. Jon Bruno, Bishop of the Diocese of Los Angeles, entered into a contract for sale of property (the “St. James property”) that is central to a disciplinary matter now pending under Title IV of the Canons of The Episcopal Church, in which Bishop Bruno is the Respondent. According to Bishop Bruno’s submissions in that disciplinary matter, the contract for sale of the St. James property sets the closing date as July 3, 2017.
Bishop Bruno’s actions and intentions regarding an earlier attempted sale of the St. James property are currently under review in the pending disciplinary matter. I am deeply concerned that his act of entering into a new contract for sale of the same property, while his approach to the earlier sale is still under review, has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process. The secrecy with which the recent sales contract was undertaken adds to the potential for undermining the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process.
Accordingly, in order to protect the integrity of the Church’s disciplinary process and, thereby, the good order and welfare of the Church, and pursuant to Canons IV.7(3), (4), and IV.17(2), I hereby place the following partial restriction on the exercise of his ministry until the pending Title IV matter has been finally resolved:
During the period of the restriction, the Bishop, acting individually, or as Bishop Diocesan, or as Corporate Sole, or in any other capacity, is forbidden from closing on the sale of the St. James property, or otherwise selling or conveying the property or contracting to sell the property, or, in any way assisting in the sale or conveyance of the property.
This restriction is effective immediately. Nothing in this restriction is intended to express any opinion about the merits of the pending Title IV proceeding.
This document shall be served upon Bishop Bruno today and shall inform him of his right to have any objections to this restriction heard pursuant to Canon IV.7.
(The Most Rev.) Michael Bruce Curry
XXVII Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
It would appear that this restriction moots +Bruno’s rather cheeky appeal of the Hearing Panel’s sanctions order of June 17 (see the update to this earlier post), because now it does not matter whether his appeal is upheld or denied by the full Disciplinary Board: +Bruno cannot close escrow on the St. James the Great property in Newport Beach without subjecting himself to new disciplinary proceedings and sanctions instituted by the Presiding Bishop.
At the same time, knowing +Bruno’s stubbornness and refusals to yield to authority (he was a former policeman), I would not be surprised if he goes ahead and closes escrow anyway (assuming the buyer does not back out in light of these developments). His corporation sole is in law the record owner of the property (thanks to the fecklessness of the diocesan Standing Committee). Therefore in the eyes of California civil law, +Bruno is on paper, at least, capable of conveying good title to the property, whether his doing so violates an ecclesiastical order or not.
Caveat: While he may be able to sign a deed conveying title, the holding of the California Court of Appeals in the first Bishop Schofield case may give ECUSA the right to sue for the return of the property, since by now the proposed developer in Newport Beach is fully aware of the proceedings against +Bruno, and could not be treated as an innocent, bona fide purchaser without notice. That is why any sensible title attorney knowing that case would urge extreme caution on the buyer’s part.
Bishop Bruno also has, reportedly, a further $25 million or so of property in escrow which is not affected by either the sanctions order or the Partial Restriction. (See the earlier post linked above for details.) There is no telling at this point just what he may stand to realize personally if one or more of these escrows closes, because he has refused to disclose (in violation of his duties as a fiduciary to his Diocese and its governing bodies) any particulars of any pending deal.
Which is why ECUSA’s attorney leading the prosecution of disciplinary charges against +Bruno, Jerry Coughlan, has called for a “forensic audit” of +Bruno’s corporation sole in his 16-page response to +Bruno’s appeal of the sanctions order (link downloads a .pdf). The response makes for very colorful and interesting reading. It outlines the same primary case for protecting ECUSA’s disciplinary jurisdiction over +Bruno that the Partial Restriction does, and in the process characterizes +Bruno as a “rogue bishop”, the role of which he certainly has acted until now.
[UPDATE 06/29/2017: Church Attorney Coughlan has now filed an amendment to his earlier response in which he calls for the Panel to apply its extreme sanction, and depose +Bruno from his see outright. If the Panel were to do so, it should probably exercise its prerogative to make the deposition effective retroactively, as of the date it noticed the public hearing on the complaint against +Bruno, since it was after that date that +Bruno entered into his secretive contract for sale. Removing +Bruno from his office as of that date would cancel and render invalid any contract he entered into subsequently.]
So, as foreseen long ago on this blog, we may be coming to the ultimate showdown — a contest of authority between an ostensibly autonomous diocesan bishop and the national body’s presiding bishop, who in 2009 was given pastoral authority for the first time ever over other ECUSA bishops by the changes adopted in that year to Title IV at General Convention. (Those changes to the disciplinary rules were one of the reasons Bishop Mark Lawrence and his Diocese of South Carolina cited for their decision to withdraw from ECUSA.)
It is too early to say how this matter will play itself out, because there are now very strong forces gathering on both sides. I will update further as I believe appropriate.