Laws that Seem to Hurt the Respondent
Advocates have a hard time in our system. It is an amateur system, built out of laws that are covered in several parts of the Discipline and in over a thousand Judicial Council Decisions. Some of those laws are similar to civil codes and some are definitely not. Serious cases come up once in a blue moon in an annual conference so there rarely is an experienced advocate around with whom to consult.
There are several avenues of appeal and when to use which is not clearly spelled out anywhere. In fact, which of the avenues to use remains a mystery to the inexperienced. Then, when one avenue is tried, all the obscure written and unwritten rules come out and invariably work against the advocate and respondent. Who knew how complicated it was? And the Church comes out looking legalistic, protective of the hierarchy, and impenetrable by those seeking justice. Reconciliation goes out the door and the Church really gets a black eye despite “following the rules.”
At any time, was the advocate told he had only one route and that the time frame began at the close of the trial? I doubt that the attorney acting as assistant counsel knew.
Church law is now so complex that amateurs and part-time volunteers are in over their heads. Isn’t it time that the denomination funded a “public defense” corps, a “prosecution” corps, full time clerks for the Judicial Council and appellate committees, and a church law department in some of the seminaries? The Catholics have established their judicial system, as have some other denominations. Isn’t it time someone studied those systems to see what we could learn? And, while I’m at it, how about having a commission to review church trials and challenged personnel cases in much the same way the federal government studies disastrous accidents so we can learn how to avoid them in the future?
Having made all the mistakes I see advocates in the cases have made that have reached the Judicial Council, I wish I had done better at letting them know I and others are out here and could have helped. Church law has formed around mistakes and most of the time , its rules are meant to help and not hurt. As you can see by some of my commentaries, I try to pinpoint where law has been used to hurt.
We have to do a better job as a Church to make our system more clear and more effective and maybe even professionalize it.