Monday, June 8, 2009

Remaining Legal Issues Dropped in Colorado Springs Dispute

Following a marathon court-ordered mediation session June 2, the Diocese of Colorado and the leadership of St. George’s Anglican Church in Colorado Springs agreed to drop all outstanding legal issues.

“The diocese believed it would be good to agree to end this,” said Martin Nussbaum as reported by the Colorado Springs Gazette. Mr. Nussbaum, the lawyer who headed the diocese’s successful legal claim to ownership of the $17 million church campus of Grace and St. Stephen’s Church in Colorado Springs, added that the agreement stipulates that “All Grace Church property interests will remain with the diocese.”

During negotiations at a neutral location, the Rt. Rev. Rob O’Neill, Bishop of Colorado, other diocesan officials and their lawyers remained in one room while the Rev. Don Armstrong, rector of St. George’s, other leaders from the congregation and their lawyers remained in another room. Shuttling between the two rooms was Bill Neighbors, a mediator with the Judicial Arbiter Group in Denver and a former state supreme court justice.

Judge Larry Schwartz recommended mediation to resolve a number of issues remaining after his March 24 order. These included $5 million in claims for damages against the individual volunteer leadership at St. George’s and the possibility of an appeal of the March 24 decision by the Anglican congregation.

“Our only remaining obligation is to pay final operational expenses we had incurred during our possession of the property, but were unauthorized to pay until this settled agreement was reached,” said Kelly Oliver, a spokeswoman for the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

As part of the settlement, the diocese agreed to assume all costs of maintaining the church property, including repayment of a $2.5 million mortgage.

The property dispute began in March 2007 when the vestry and a majority of the congregation at Grace and St. Stephen’s voted to join CANA and recall Fr. Armstrong as rector.

Fr. Armstrong, who was indicted in May on 20 felony theft counts and is awaiting trial, had been deposed from the ordained ministry of The Episcopal Church by Bishop O’Neill after a forensic audit of parish finances. Fr. Armstrong has pled not guilty and denies all charges.

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