Community Chapel and Bible Training Center - Legal Proceedings Involving Community Chapel - Pastor Barnett's Lawsuit For Judicial Reinstatement To His Pastorate - Barnett Files Second Appeal With The Washington Supreme Court

Barnett Files Second Appeal With The Washington Supreme Court

After Judge Deierlien ruled that Barnett was properly disfellowshipped, Barnett promptly filed a second appeal with the Washington State Supreme Court via a direct appeal. Barnett presented numerous arguments urging reversal. Barnett argued that no court could impose a "fiduciary duty" upon a pastor for conduct arising from the pastoral-congregational relationship. Barnett also argued that Judge Deierlien's ruling amounted to impermissible judicial interference with the sincerely held religious beliefs of Barnett and his congregation, and that no secular court has jurisdiction to decide issues pertaining to church doctrine and policy. Barnett argued that any such attempt by a secular court would violate the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and that matters pertaining to Barnett's conduct should be resolved by internal church procedures and not a secular judiciary. The Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments on February 25, 1992 and reviewed the voluminous transcripts from the 14 days of proceedings before Judge Deierlien. In a move that may have surprised all parties involved, on May 21, 1992 the Washington Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion dismissing Barnett's appeal on the court's own motion. The court found that

We do not reach the merits, but rather dismiss the appeal on our own motion. By submitting the matter to arbitration the parties severely limited the scope of appellate review.

The problem was that Barnett and the Elders entered into a private arbitration agreement to assure all parties involved a higher level of secrecy than would otherwise be available through a conventional public trial in the King County Superior Court building. The Supreme Court noted that parties who use this method of Arbitration severely limit the scope of appellate review, and that the decision of the Arbitrator is essentially "binding". The attorneys for both sides apparently attempted to have the best of both worlds, because they signed an agreement allowing for full appellate review of the arbitrator's decision, but also providing for confidentiality of the proceedings. The Supreme Court did not approve of this, noting that

If the parties in fact intended to consent to a trial before a referee, they could not cloak that proceeding with secrecy by closing the trial and sealing the record. Litigants cannot have the best of both worlds to suit their private interests.

Barnett did not file a Petition for Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, and the litigation had finally concluded. Due to the uncertain status of the declaratory judgment action filed by Barnett contesting his removal, Community Chapel did not technically know who their legal pastor was until May 21, 1992 when the Washington Supreme Court dismissed Barnett's final appeal from Judge Deierlein's earlier ruling on April 12, 1991.

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