Presbytery forced to release documents
By Parker T. Williamson, The Layman, December 17, 2009
The Louisiana Supreme Court has denied a request by the Presbytery of South Louisiana (PSL) to keep under wraps 441 documents that presbytery representatives exchanged with the Synod of the Sun, the Office of the General Assembly and five attorneys from a New York based firm that has represented the General Assembly in church property cases.
On Sept. 22, PSL was ordered by the 19th Judicial District Court to release the documents to attorneys representing Carrollton Presbyterian Church, a 20-member New Orleans congregation that has successfully fended off PSL claims against its property. When PSL refused to turn over the documents, Judge Kay Bates found the presbytery in contempt of court and again ordered that the documents be surrendered to Carrollton.
PSL must pay Carrollton “all costs, fees and expenses reasonably incurred in connection with plaintiff’s Motion for Contempt … ” according to court documents.
On Oct. 22, PSL filed a writ of certiorari, asking the Louisiana First Circuit Court to stay Bates’ order, pending a review by the Circuit Court. A temporary stay was granted, but on Nov. 12, the court denied PSL’s request and lifted the stay.
On Nov 13, PSL appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, again requesting a stay of Bates’ order, pending a review by that court. Again, a temporary stay was granted, but on Nov. 18, the Supreme Court denied PSL’s request and vacated the stay.
The 441 documents are now in the hands of Carrollton attorneys.
A “Defendant’s Privilege Log,” submitted by PSL in support of its plea that the documents be kept under wraps shows that there has been a vigorous flurry of correspondence regarding the Carrollton case, much of it bearing the name of Mark Tammen, an attorney in the Office of the General Assembly.
PSL argued that the documents were protected by “Attorney Work Product” and “Attorney Client Privilege.” Carrollton successfully refuted that argument, showing that when PSL attorneys circulated their documents among persons who were not parties to the Carrollton case, they forfeited their attorney/client privilege.
Attorneys for Carrollton may not distribute the contents of the 441 documents publicly because they are currently under a protective order by the court. Presumably, the documents will be cited in conjunction with a motion for sanctions against PSL that Carrollton has placed before the court.
In its Memorandum in Support of Motion for Sanctions, Carrollton said “the PSL and its counsel … ignored facts known to them or readily ascertainable by them, and have advanced preposterous legal arguments.” Providing responses to such arguments significantly ratcheted up Carrollton’s legal expenses.
Since Feb. 23, 2009, said Carrollton, “PSL has demonstrated that it will say anything and do anything, however brazen, contradictory or lacking in merit, in order to interpose pleadings and argument for improper purposes, to harass, cause unnecessary delay, or needlessly increase the cost of litigation.”
Carrollton’s memorandum also targeted an administrative commission of the Synod of the Sun, “PSL’s ‘surrogate and alter-ego,’” for the commission’s attempt to dissolve Carrollton, despite the fact that Carrollton was protected by a Temporary Restraining Order. “The PSL admitted in sworn testimony by its stated clerk and executive presbyter,” said Carrollton, “that it agreed with its surrogate to keep this violation secret.”
A date for hearings on Carrollton’s Motion for Sanctions has not yet been set but is expected in early 2010.
PSL’s self imposed legal costs in opposing Carrollton’s property claim are approaching $300,000 and have contributed to a major financial crisis in the presbytery