Q&A: Michael Frazier trial



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Q&A: Michael Frazier trial
 
Aug. 15, 2007  News media contact: Erik Alsgaard*
800-282-8011, ext. 505  
ealsgaard@flumc.org  Lakeland {0719}

NOTE: See related e-Review FUMNS article, “One United Methodist pastor faces church trial, another reaches agreement,” at http://www.flumc2.org/FCNN/articles/000039/003907.htm.

An e-Review News Item
By Florida United Methodist News Service

The following questions and answers are related to the clergy trial of the Rev. Michael Frazier, which begins Aug. 21 in Lakeland.

Q&A

What is a church trial?

A trial in The United Methodist Church occurs when a complaint is filed against an individual — in this case a clergyman — and specified committees have reviewed the charges and recommended a trial.

Most complaints against clergy are resolved in the supervisory process, making a trial unnecessary. According to the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, “Church trials are to be regarded as an expedient of last resort.” The Book of Discipline contains the bylaws of The United Methodist Church.

While official policies and procedures are determined by The United Methodist Church as a whole through its General Conference, clergy in the United States are accountable to one of 65 annual (regional) conferences in which they have membership. A jury includes 13 clergy members from the annual conference, with nine votes necessary to convict.

Who is charged with what?

The Rev. Michael Frazier, currently on leave of absence, will be on trial. He is charged with five offenses: crime, sexual misconduct, two counts of immorality, and disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. Frazier last served Stewart Memorial United Methodist Church in Daytona Beach in 2004.

Ordained as an elder in full connection in 1997, Frazier also served Zion United Methodist Church in Ocala from 1994 to 1998 and as chaplain at Bethune-Cookman University concurrent with his service at Stewart Memorial United Methodist Church.

Who made the formal complaint against Frazier?

The conference’s Committee on Investigation referred the charges for trial after a complaint was filed with Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker.

In April 2004 the state of Florida charged Frazier with having a sexual relationship with a 17-year old girl, a second-degree felony. Those charges were resolved when Frazier reached a plea agreement with the state attorney’s office. Under the agreement the original charges were reduced to a charge of a lesser offense. Frazier entered a plea of no contest, with adjudication of guilt being withheld. The court accepted the plea, and Frazier received a sentence that did not include incarceration.

The church delayed its complaint process to avoid prejudicing any criminal or civil proceedings.

When and where will the trial be held?

The trial will start Tuesday, Aug. 21, at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland. It is not known when the trial will end. Many United Methodist Church trials last three days.

Who will preside over the trial?

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that a bishop, other than the one serving the annual conference where the trial will be held, shall preside (¶2713.2). Retired Bishop William W. Morris of Gallatin, Tenn., will preside over the Frazier trial.

How are members of the trial court (jurors) chosen?

The first major agenda item for the trial will be the selection of a trial court (jury), which could take several hours. Members of the jury are chosen from a pool of 35 ordained elders in the Florida Conference (¶2713.3a). Thirteen people and two alternates, all ordained elders and members of the Florida Conference, will be selected. The annual conference cabinet (district superintendents) selects the pool. A person in the pool may not be a member of the cabinet, board of ministry or committee on investigation that considered the case while it was in the process of going before the trial court. Special consideration is given to ensuring that the pool is diverse racially, ethnically and in gender. The counsel for the church and the respondent shall each have up to four pre-emptory challenges, plus unlimited challenges for cause. The alternates shall sit as observers of the trial. They will be seated as members of the trial court in the event that one of the 13 original jurors is unable to continue.

Will the trial be open to spectators and the news media?

According to the church’s Book of Discipline, a trial is closed unless the respondent (defendant) requests in writing that it be open. This trial will be closed.

How does a trial work in The United Methodist Church?

According to the Book of Discipline (¶2710.2): “After selection of the trial court, each counsel may make an opening statement to inform the trial court of what the evidence is expected to be. Evidence shall then be offered by questioning of witnesses and by documents shown to be reliable. Each counsel shall have opportunity to make closing arguments before the trial court begins deliberations. Deliberations of the trial court and receiving of the verdict shall follow.”

At the beginning of the trial, the respondent (defendant) will enter a plea to the charges. If the respondent pleads “guilty,” the trial is over. If the respondent pleads “not guilty” or chooses not to respond, the trail will continue (¶2710.4).

What does the trial court have authority to do?

The Book of Discipline is clear: “The trial court shall have full power to try the respondent (¶2711.1).”

What if Frazier is found guilty? Not guilty?

If the trial court renders a guilty verdict it will also determine the penalty to be imposed. “The trial court shall have the power to remove the respondent from professing members, terminate the conference membership and/or revoke the credentials of ordination or consecration of the respondent, suspend the respondent from the exercise of the functions of office, or to fix a lesser penalty. The penalty fixed by the trial court shall take effect immediately unless otherwise indicated by the trial court,” according to the Book of Discipline (¶2711.3).

If found not guilty, it is likely Frazier would retain all the privileges of a clergyperson in full connection with the annual conference.

For assistance, news reporters may contact:

Erik Alsgaard, Florida Conference director of communications and key contact person, 800-282-8011, extension 505, or ealsgaard@flumc.org.

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*Alsgaard is director of communications for the Florida Conference.




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