4:00 P.M. EST April 27, 2010 | MORRISTOWN, N.J. (UMNS)
Members of the Judicial Council issued new decisions after meeting April
21-24 in Morristown, N.J. A UMNS file photo by Neill Caldwell.
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The United Methodist Judicial Council upheld the dismissal of a
South Carolina clergyman accused of having an affair with a married
But members of the denomination’s top court raised questions about
the handling of DNA evidence and frequent use of off-the-record
conferences at the minister’s trial.
At the conclusion of its April 21-24 meeting, the Judicial Council
affirmed the verdict against Jimmy J. Montgomery, a married clergyman
who served as a chaplain for 19 years at United Methodist-related
Claflin University. He was accused by the South Carolina Annual
(regional) Conference of having an ongoing affair.
Two Judicial Council members, Susan Henry-Crowe and F. Belton Joyner
Jr., recused themselves from the case. The Rev. Joe May, first clergy
alternate, participated in the decision.
In a lengthy dissenting opinion, council member Jon R. Gray found
“egregious errors of church law” that he believes “vitiate,” or impair,
both the verdict and punishment.
Montgomery—found guilty of sexual misconduct in a June 2009 church
trial presided over by retired Bishop Joseph Pennel— appealed that
decision, first to the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals
and then to the Judicial Council.
The council found that some of the alleged grounds for appeal were
not heard or ruled upon by the trial court or committee on appeals.
“Therefore, these alleged errors are not properly before the Judicial
Council for a ruling,” the decision said.
Basis of case
During an oral hearing, the Rev. Jerry Eckert, a retired pastor from
the Wisconsin Conference serving as Montgomery’s counsel, argued that
the South Carolina Conference’s entire case rested on the woman in
question telling the truth.
Eckert claimed the charges were based on
opinion. He also said the alleged DNA evidence “was flawed and
incomplete,” and the committee on appeals failed to examine evidence
pertinent to the case. Institutional racism also could have factored
into the decision, he added. Montgomery is African American.
“The record shows no credible evidence that the affair
occurred,” he declared.
The Rev. Diane Moseley, counsel for the South Carolina Conference on
the case, disputed Eckert’s assertions. “Jimmy Montgomery received a
fair trial,” she told the Judicial Council. “Reading through the trial
transcripts, you can’t come away with any other conclusion.”
Moseley said Montgomery had not raised objections to the committee
on appeals regarding the racial composition of the trial court. African
Americans constitute 14 percent of the elders in the conference and 33
percent of the trial court was African American, she added.
She agreed that Montgomery has a long history of laudable service in
the conference. “It is not a stretch to suggest his innocence was
presumed as long as possible,” she said. But “more than enough” of the
trial court members believed the testimony against Montgomery and that
was enough to convict him.
Handling of DNA evidence
During the hearing, Gray raised concerns about the how the DNA
evidence was handled.
Moseley conceded that “much was made of the fact that the collection
of the evidence was not in the parameters that the lab would have
preferred,” but argued the trial court had enough credible evidence to
sustain its verdict even if the DNA evidence were set aside.
In his dissent, Gray noted that the use of scientific DNA evidence
in church trials was not addressed by church law. “However, whenever a
party chooses to offer scientific evidence, the receipt of such evidence
must be consistent with the principles of fair process,” he wrote.
Gray also told Moseley he was disturbed by “an unusual and large
number of off-the-record conversations” noted in the trial transcript—a
concern that formed the basis of his dissent.
He pointed out that “a significant number” of the objections raised
in the brief on behalf of Montgomery could not be found in the trial
transcript and it was impossible to determine whether those particular
objections had been part of the unrecorded court discussions.
“The very fact that a disturbing number of off-the-record conferences
were held is persuasive evidence that church law was violated and with
it, the rights of the accused,” Gray wrote.
In a concurring opinion, Judicial Council member Beth Capen agreed
with the majority’s decision to affirm the verdict, but also expressed
“deep concern” about the off-the-record discussions at trial.
“I urge trial courts to be certain that a full and accurate
transcript of the proceedings are made by the court reporter and that
all sidebars that involve the presiding officer be recorded and
transcribed for the record,” Capen wrote.
The full text of the decisions from the Judicial Council’s April
meeting will be posted online at http://archives.umc.org/interior_judicial.asp?mid=263.
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or