|Winston & Strawn appellate and critical motions partner Steffen Johnson, based in the firm's Washington, D.C. office, was quoted in an October 15, 2008 article in The Washington Times titled "Court Rules Church's Land Belongs to Departed Parish." The article discusses a recent decision by Judge Bellows in the Fairfax County Circuit Court that Truro Church, a “breakaway” parish, could retain ownership of land sought by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Over the past two years, 15 Virginia parishes, including Truro Church, have voted to leave the diocese and place themselves under more conservative branches of the Anglican Communion.
On the day following the Truro decision, Judge Bellows began hearing arguments in the property rights case of another breakaway parish, The Falls Church, which also is represented by Winston & Strawn. The diocese claims that The Falls Church property belongs to Christ Episcopal Church, which remains part of the diocese. Mr. Johnson, who serves as co-counsel to the breakaway parishes, said Christ Church has no claim over Falls Church.
"We find it remarkable this supposed claim would go unnoticed for 185 years," he said. "You will search land records in vain to prove Christ Church has ever held title or exercised dominion over the Falls Church property."
Opening arguments in The Falls Church case, presented by Winston litigation partner Gordon Coffee, were covered in an October 16 Falls-Church News Press article titled “F.C. ‘Continuing Episcopalians’ Insist Their Case is Different.” According to this article, Mr. Coffee’s opening statements included a presentation with maps of The Falls Church’s property, previous court decisions, and the stipulations of the original land deed. Mr. Coffee argued that “there is no question that The Falls Church trustees are the record owners of this parcel.”
In addition, Mr. Johnson was quoted in a related article in The Washington Post titled “Ruling Bolsters Breakaway Parishes: Episcopal Fights Goes on After Controversy” on October 16. "A lot of people’s willingness to take a step away from the Episcopal Church depends on the existence of a place to go,” said Johnson. “Now people who are leaving and people who have left can say ‘Let’s join together.’ It builds momentum."