Lawyers of the Executive Board of the Southern Baptist Convention announced that they would “fight over every document” requested in the sexual abuse investigation requested by the messengers at the SBC’s annual meeting, according to the Working Group on Sexual Abuse.
The already intense struggle between the working group mandated by the convention and the commissioners and staff of the Executive Board showed no signs of resolution over the weekend, but the third meeting of the Executive Board was announced for Tuesday, October 5, at 10:30 a.m. Central Time.
Charges of “misconduct”
Meanwhile, a document obtained by Baptist News Global and dated October 4 indicates that “there are deeply troubling allegations that at least some EC commissioners have engaged in misconduct in matters underlying the investigation”. The allegation appears to have originated from the working group, but has now been presented to Executive Committee commissioners by Harriet Miers and Paul Coggins, Dallas-based attorneys who have come to the aid of the Executive Committee.
“There are deeply worrying allegations that at least some EC commissioners have engaged in misconduct on the issues underlying the investigation.”
It was not explained what could be inappropriate behavior, and the original letter of the working group to the Executive Board stating such accusations was not available.
Advise what is smart and what is at stake
A confidential letter to Executive Board members – confirmed by BNG that it is authentic – from two lawyers continues to claim that under Tennessee law, Executive Board members owe more duty to the Executive Board as trustees than to SBC as the sole member of the Executive Board corporation. Whether legal or not, this view is at odds with Southern Baptist policy and forms at the heart of the nation’s demands for pastors and religious leaders across the country to do what the convention said and waive the rights of lawyers and clients for the scope of this investigation. sexual abuse.
“No one can tell you what you believe is reasonably prudent – neither the lawyer nor most of the messengers who make up the convention’s annual meeting can tell you what you believe,” the board of two Dallas lawyers advised.
The letter also clarifies the internal view that “all Trustees of the Executive Board since 2001 are in the universe of those suspected of having committed a crime, although trustees whose service began in June this year are unlikely to be investigated for illegality as board members. It would be difficult for any Commissioner of the Executive Board to be considered completely free from any possibility that charges of misdemeanors would be brought during the working group’s investigation. ”
The manner in which the lawyers of the Executive Board advise the staff and the trustees of the Board is not publicly documented as all such representatives are given at the Executive Session. At long meetings over the past two Tuesdays, the Executive Board went to private session for hours to hear lawyers.
The working group makes another statement
The clearest indication that the legal adviser is driving the car comes from the Sexual Abuse Working Group, which seems increasingly outraged that the Executive Board will not allow it to do the job at the congress appointed by its messengers in June and said so.
“Southern Baptists spoke clearly about the work of our working group and the independent review by Guidepost Solutions. By phone calls, e-mails and posts on social networks, they continued to express the same desire as stated in the original proposal, especially regarding the waiver of the privilege of a lawyer-client, “the working group wrote in a public letter on October 1.
“We failed to reach an agreement due to the EC’s constant insistence on preserving privileges and on being the party that employs the Guidepost.”
Despite several days of efforts in good faith, “we failed to reach an agreement due to the EC’s constant insistence on preserving privileges and being a party that engages the Guidepost, instead of allowing the working group to negotiate, at the express will of the messenger.” This wasted a significant amount of both time and money – the cooperation program dollars that the messengers directed to the investigation, but certainly did not focus on postponing the investigation. ”
The October 1 public letter raises two significant allegations about the Executive Board’s process to date:
- “Unfortunately, we were not allowed to communicate clearly and fully with the full Executive Board, and it became clear that our position was certainly not accurately conveyed by the EC Adviser.”
- “For the sake of clarity, the only model that complies with the explicit messenger directives is the ‘messenger model’, which waives the privileges of the lawyer and the client in order to ensure an open, timely and thorough investigation. This was our focus; this remains our only focus. We think this is more important than ever given the events of the past few weeks, including the views of EC advisers that have been conveyed as “we will fight over every document”.
The leaders of the Executive Board stated in the comments of the public that they believe that there is a way through this impasse that does not completely renounce the privilege of a lawyer-client. Recent statements have discussed the “special master” model or the “Michigan model” as an alternative. This would involve another third or fourth party as an arbitrator as to which documents should be considered privileged (and therefore confidential) and what should be disclosed. But the Executive Board’s position so far has been that the Executive Board must control this process – even to the point of signing a contract with Guidepost Solutions and becoming a client instead of a working group being a client.
This is still unacceptable for the working group.
“We need to be clear that we NEVER believed that a special master or model from Michigan was aligned with the will of the messengers because they don’t,” the October 1 working group wrote. “This was unequivocally told to the commissioners in our meeting on Monday. Both models were temporary, just to allow work to begin, while we continued to advocate clear messenger directives. Neither model is in line with explicit messenger directives, and we made that clear to knowledge. ”
Ronnie Floyd appeals for unity
Also Friday, Oct. 1, Ronnie Floyd, the highest paid staff on the Executive Board, published a letter to all South Baptists explaining that he has no right to vote on the issue and wants everyone to find a way to agree.
“The SBC Executive Board fully welcomes this revision,” the Executive Board Chairman said. “There was no discussion about conducting this review. We want this review to be thorough, honest and reveal the truth. We have nothing to hide, and if something we are not already aware of is revealed, it is time to discover it and act accordingly. Everything that is revealed should be discovered, repented of, and resolved in all possible ways. Our team is ready to work with this company and is preparing from the week after the annual meeting of SBC 2021. ”
As the two factions go to their third meeting in three weeks, insiders see several issues looming in the future:
- If the Executive Committee continues to refuse to relinquish the privilege of a lawyer and a client, will the working group be able to properly conduct an investigation, potentially denying it access to an unknown number of key documents?
- If the Executive Board agrees to waive the privileges of a lawyer and a client, will some members of the dissenting board consider the risk too great and resign in their place in protest? And will a legal adviser who has advised so strongly not to waive the privilege resume business after a client has objected to his or her counsel?
- What will be the consequence when the SBC gathers for its annual session next June in Anaheim, California? Since the “convention” legally exists only two days a year during the annual meeting, there is no mechanism for the “convention” to challenge its Executive Board until then.
- What lasting damage or change will this most significant challenge to the management of South Baptist authority in the history of the denomination bring? This could include an accelerated lack of trust and a potentially open door to other litigation, made possible by the new understanding that the SBK, in fact, operates in a hierarchical structure that gives its Executive Board a higher reputation than the churches gathered at the annual session.
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