Friday, February 06, 2015

Court Refuses To Defer To Ecclesiastical Determination In Church Embezzlement Prosecution

Chicago Tribune reports that a Wisconsin state trial court has refused to apply the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine to a criminal prosecution of a Greek Orthodox priest charged with embezzling trust funds from the church where he served for many years.  James Dokos was trustee of a $1.1 million trust benefiting Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Milwaukee. The indictment (full text) alleges that Dokos wrote checks for $110,000 outside the terms of the trust, and mostly for his personal benefit. Before going to civil authorities, leaders of Annunciation complained to its parent body, the Metropolis of Chicago, which investigated and concluded that Dokos had done nothing wrong.

Dokos claimed that the case involves a dispute between a priest and a parish council over the use of church funds, and should be decided by the Greek Orthodox Church's internal dispute resolution process. The court disagreed, holding:
Determining whether or not the defendant embezzled money does not require this court to appoint religious ministers, decide tenets of faith (or) interpret church doctrine.