Bishop: Attorney Never on Disciplinary Board
  • Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Church Attorney Josephine H. Hicks performs legal work for the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops but is not a member of it, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson said in an interview with The Living Church.

The board is in the early stages of investigating allegations that the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, has abandoned the Episcopal Church. Unnamed parties within the diocese made the allegations.

A roster on a webpage of Episcopal Church’s General Convention was incorrect in listing Hicks as a member through 2015, Bishop Henderson said. The Rt. Rev. Clayton Matthews, Bishop of the Office of Pastoral Development, also appeared on the roster. That too was mistaken, Henderson said, and the roster was changed Oct. 12.

“Josephine Hicks is not now, and never has been, a member of the disciplinary board,” the bishop said. The board, meeting by phone after the revised Title IV took effect July 1, “voted to retain her as the board’s attorney, as authorized by the canon. The attorney does not have a vote on matters before the board and thus not on matters related to Bishop Lawrence. She does not act independently from the board; she only performs those functions requested by the board consistent with the board’s responsibility under the canons.”

The Episcopal Church’s budget, approved by General Convention in 2009, provides for legal fees incurred by the board, the bishop said.

Hicks is a partner and Diversity Committee chair at Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP, a law firm with six offices in South Carolina (including Charleston, Lawrence’s see city) and North Carolina. She is based at the firm’s office in Charlotte.

Hicks was a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council in 2003-09. In October 2007 the council approved a resolution that declared null and void any diocese’s efforts to qualify its accession to the Episcopal Church’s canons. Charleston-based attorney Melinda A. Lucka cited that resolution Sept. 22 in a letter regarding “Charleston litigation.” Lawrence has written that he learned from Henderson Sept. 29 that the disciplinary board would investigate the allegations.

Executive Council’s Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration decided in June that the resolution applies to the Diocese of South Carolina just as it applied to the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy and San Joaquin.

Hicks is a member of the Anglican Consultative Council, and in 2005 she joined two other members as “observers,” in response to a request in The Windsor Report that the Episcopal Church suspend participation in the Instruments of Communion. During a plenary session of the ACC that year, the observers and other Episcopalians defended General Convention’s decisions regarding the consecration of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, and other matters involving same-sex couples.

Hicks is a 1983 graduate of the University of the South and a 1986 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School. In July she published If There’s Anything I Can Do: What You Can Do When Serious Illness Strikes.

Bishop Henderson has questioned early media descriptions of the board’s inquiry.

“Public media have recently reported that the ‘The Episcopal Church is alleging that Bishop Mark Lawrence has abandoned the church.’ That is incorrect,” he said in a prepared statement Oct. 12.

“This action originated with communicants of Bishop Lawrence’s own diocese, who submitted information to the Disciplinary Board for the House of Bishops. Those communicants requested that the information be studied in order to determine if abandonment had occurred. The disciplinary board, made up of bishops, other clergy, and lay people from many dioceses across the country (none of whom are in the employ of, or under the direction of, the Episcopal Church Center), does not have the discretion to decline to study the matter.”

His statement added: “The disciplinary board is only in the earliest stages of its work and has not reached any decision regarding the credibility of the information received or whether the actions and conduct reported actually constitute abandonment. It has made no ‘charges’ of any kind; neither has any other part or structure of The Episcopal Church.

“The disciplinary board will, by the grace of God and with diligence, proceed methodically, carefully, prayerfully — and confidentially — to meet its canonical responsibility, including a request for, and consideration of, any and all input that Bishop Lawrence wishes to be considered. The president of the disciplinary board has provided Bishop Lawrence with all of the information it has received and is under consideration, and will continue to do so.”

Douglas LeBlanc

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