Inquiry Surges Legal Costs

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

The Episcopal Church overspent its legal budget by $121,541 in the first four months of 2016 as an extensive staff misconduct investigation took a financial toll on the church’s finances.

Legal spending far surpassed projections as the church incurred costs associated with a three-month investigation by Philadelphia-based law firm of Curley, Hessinger & Johnsrud. In producing the report for Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, the firm reviewed thousands of pages of documents and conducted more than 40 interviews.

The total investigation cost “is within that line” of legal spending beyond the budget for January through April, Treasurer Kurt Barnes said via email, and it “will remain confidential at this time.”

In December, Curry commissioned the firm to independently investigate allegations against three senior administrators: Chief Operating Officer Stacy Sauls, Deputy Chief Operating Officer Sam McDonald, and Director of Community Engagement Alex Baumgarten. After receiving the report, Curry fired McDonald and Baumgarten in April. Sauls was exonerated and left the staff.

The investigation was an unplanned expense and therefore caused higher than expected spending on legal services.

“When something like this happens we investigate thoroughly,” Curry said via email. “Is it costly? Yes. But not investigating and taking the steps necessary to address concerns — not doing that would cost even more.”

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