Documents that had been under protective seal since Dec. 4, 2009, including 441 emails between presbytery officials, lawyers and the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Office of the General Assembly staff concerning the case of Carrollton Presbyterian Church v. Presbytery of South Louisiana (PSL) have been released to the public as ordered by a Louisiana judge.
Judge Kay Bates of the 19th Judicial District Court, Parish of East Baton Rouge in Louisiana ordered the release of the documents when she sanctioned the Presbytery of South Louisiana in the amount of $390,000 after the court “unavoidably” concluded that the presbytery had “in bad faith advanced frivolous arguments in support of a claimed right it knew had no legal or evidentiary support.”
The court order, released in late July, stated that the emails demonstrated “with clarity” a conspiracy not only to defy the court’s temporary restraining order (TRO) but also revealed that the violation of the TRO was “simply a means to facilitate a wider scheme or plan. The PSL has funded the opposition to Carrollton and authorized its attorneys to act throughout on its behalf.”
In imposing the sanctions, Bates’ order read that “There is ample evidence in the record to support a compensatory sanction even without reference to the PSL documents, but those PSL documents confirm that the PSL’s pleadings, defenses and arguments were interposed to harass, cause unnecessary delay and needlessly increase the cost of litigation.”
Of the 441 PSL emails that the presbytery was compelled to submit to the court, Mark Tammen, who at the time was the director of Constitutional Services with the PCUSA Office of the General Assembly and now serves as the general presbyter/stated clerk of the Presbytery of Long Island, was a sender or recipient on approximately 398 of them.
In her order, Bates stated that a “plan” or a “scheme” had been hatched by the presbytery’s New Orleans counsel to “circumvent the facts and the substantive law,” after Tammen had informed the PSL that it could not win the case on merit. “The court is not speculating. The participants to this scheme astonishingly acknowledged all of this in their own words,” wrote Bates.
She wrote that the “scheme could be traced through a number of emails the PSL was compelled by court order to produce.”
The case dates back to March 2008, when Carrollton Presbyterian Church, in Carrollton, La., filed a civil lawsuit against the presbytery seeking a declaratory judgment that it owned its property, free and clear of the presbytery.
The church had been in the process of selling its property to its contiguous neighbor, The Stuart Hall School for Boys, when the presbytery tried to block the sale by asserting that the denomination – not the church – owned the property. The court ruled in favor of the local church, as did the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal. Both the Louisiana Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case when the presbytery filed appeals.
Portions of the 441 emails: Part 1 and Part 2
Case timeline and related articles:
August 2013: Presbyterians conspiring to act in ‘bad faith’
January 2010: Presbytery appeals decision
December 2009: Presbytery forced to release documents
October 2009: Expenses mount
October 2009: Presbytery found in contempt of court
September 2009: Judge orders presbytery to back off
August 2009: Judge issues ‘written reasons’ favoring Carrollton