It was premature and uncharitable for the Session to publicly announce RE Dudt’s guilt and censure after he issued his notice of appeal…
SPECIFICATION 34 OUT OF 40
RE Dudt stated the following specification of error against the Midway Session in his appeal:
34. The Session of Midway Presbyterian Church of the Presbyterian Church in America erred in censure when the wording of their November 12, 2020, 7:57 am email to the congregation stated “We regret to inform you that our brother, Ruling Elder Philip Dudt, has been indefinitely suspended from office by the Session. This was not a decision that was taken lightly or with haste, neither was it a retributive response to his congregational communications. To the contrary, the judgment was that he violated his ordination vows. This notice concludes the Session’s public discussion of this matter.”
Such a statement violated BCO 42-6, suspended RE Dudt from office when the Session had no authority to do so, damaged RE Dudt’s good name before the judgment is either upheld or overturned by the higher courts, will cause the Session to lose credibility if the conviction is overturned, and caused many familiar to the case to question the accuracy of the statement since both charges were directly related to RE Dudt’s single congregational communication. This error demonstrated a manifestation of prejudice in their haste to announce the verdict to the congregation. The Session was forced to restate that email the following week, but only after the injury to RE Dudt’s good name was sustained.
THE SJC PANEL’S RESPONSE
The SJC panel concurred with RE Dudt. It wrote:
These two specifications of error are sustained.
A Minute Explanatory. BCO 42-6 reads in part, “Notice of appeal shall have the effect of suspending the judgment of the lower court until the case has been finally decided in the higher court.” Appellant filed notice of appeal, dated November 11, 2020, to Clerk of Presbytery (ROC 509, cf. 515). That notice had the effect of suspending Session’s judgment in the trial of Appellant. Session therefore erred when it communicated to the congregation on November 12 (ROC 204-5, cf. ROC 512) that Appellant had been censured.
IMPLICATIONS OF THIS VIOLATION
The Session’s action represented a rush to judgment that showed disrespect for the Presbyterian judicial process. The Session was aware of the levels of appeal. They knew RE Dudt had already announced his intent to file his appeal.
And yet, they issued their public statement anyway, despite the fact that, constitutionally, their judgment had been suspended.
This was a clear error. It was so clear that the SJC Panel had no trouble seeing it.
The judgment against RE Dudt was rushed, just as were the trial and the process leading up to it. It resembles the actions of a man who wants to quickly shake this dirty business off his hands and return to normal before people start asking too many questions.