Monday, February 17, 2070


This blog recounts my experiences with abusive conduct on the part of my former rector, the Rev. Robert H. Malm aka Bob Malm. Bob is the rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Alexandria VA—an ostensibly inclusive Anglo-Catholic parish located in the city’s Del Ray neighborhood.

Bob’s misconduct began in July 2015, after I complained to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia about bullying on Bob’s part, as well as questionable HR, cash management, and financial reporting practices in the parish. I also complained that parish employees were routinely experiencing workplace harassment.

Four weeks later, the diocese wrote back, saying that these issues were, “not of weighty and material importance to the ministry of the church,” and declining to get involved. That’s right—the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has no issue with bullying, workplace harassment, or church funds going AWOL.

Shortly afterwards, I received an email from Bob Malm telling me to find a new church. Days later, I learned that Bob had instructed church staff, clergy and volunteers to shun us by excluding us from the life of the church. Subsequently, Bob acknowledged that he did this in retaliation for my complaint.

I promptly informed the diocese, which refused to do anything.

But Bob’s harassment and retaliation were far from over. Bob deliberately misused memorial donations given by my family; these were not used per the terms under which they were solicited, which is illegal. Yet again, Bishop Shannon Johnston had firsthand knowledge of this matter, and was sent written documentation that the misuse of funds was illegal, but he still refused to get involved.

In spring 2017, following adverse media coverage, the bishop negotiated a ceasefire. This was short-lived, however, for the following December, Bob filed a false police report with the City of Alexandria police department, arguing that a blog written by my mother had threatened him, that the blog was mine, and suggesting that I have major mental illness. All three claims are false, and I believe Bob knows that. Moreover, in his report, Bob breached confidentiality on certain pastoral issues.

As of February 2018, the matter is now in litigation. As a result, I am limited in the details I can share.

What I can say is this: Bob’s behavior is abuse, pure and simple. His conduct is highly unbecoming, and reflects badly on him, on the parish, and the entire Episcopal church.

In addition, Bob’s actions have been harmful to my entire family, but particularly my mother, who is in the final stages of emphysema. Her distress is palpable, and no one should have to deal with behavior like Bob’s in the final weeks of their life.

Lastly, I’d point out that shunning usually is the bailiwick of cults, Scientologists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Bob’s campaign of shunning me and my family will soon have gone on for two years. Such behavior has no place in any church, and suggests that Bob Malm and Grace Church are morally and ethically bankrupt.

Sunday, February 6, 2022

Breaking News: Bob Malm Subpoenas My Dying Mother

Earlier today, Bob Malm and Jeff Chiow stepped up their campaign of harassment and retaliation against me and my family by sending a subpoena to my mother, who is dying of COPD. Both Bob and Jeff already know she is dying.

Here’s what one clergy person said upon hearing the news:

Another person described Bob Malm as a “snake:”

Of course, no surprise there—that’s exactly the sort of thing folks at Grace Church do. In fact, I’d be prepared to bet money the vestry is fully supportive. 


Thursday, February 20, 2020

Disgraceful Waste: Bob Malm Flushes $2 Million of Church Funds Down the Toilet on His Personal Residence

Speaking of dysfunction, in 2014 the Grace vestry decided to write off half of the value of a loan it had made 10 years earlier to Bob Malm. The loan had been provided so that Bob could purchase a private residence. But writing off half the loan, especially at a time when the church was in relatively dismal financial condition, was a bad and irresponsible decision, as we’ll see below. And before you ask, as a vestry member, I was the sole person to vote no on the forgiveness, which amounted to $100,000 of a $200,000 loan.

But there’s more to it than just the loan. As we’ll see below, the loan is just the tip of the iceberg in a series of spectacularly ill-advised business decisions made by the vestry at Bob Malm’s urging. In this matter, Bob placed his perceived personal interests ahead of those of the parish he claims to serve, while the vestry lost sight of its fiduciary obligations.

First, an important disclaimer, which is that a loan for a personal residence is the one exception to the canonical prohibition on churches lending money to their clergy. Thus, there is nothing inherently wrong about a church lending its rector money for the down payment for a personal residence.

That said, it is important to note that, at the time Bob decided to buy a personal residence, he resided in a perfectly livable rectory, much larger than his current home. Yes, it needed work, perhaps as much as $200,000 worth, but it was comfortable, convenient, and owned free and clear by the church.

But Bob appears to have had it in his head that if he had his own place it would be a nest egg for retirement. That of course, presupposes adequate maintenance and upkeep—neither of which has happened in practice. Thus, Bob traded a large, poorly maintained home for a small, poorly maintained home, all while spending a small mountain of donated cash. Nice move, Bob. 

So, despite considerable misgivings and resistance on the part of the vestry, Bob bludgeoned a proposal through the vestry to help him buy a private residence. This he did by dint of much noisy argument, and by remaining present during the vestry vote on the matter, with the result that more than one vestry member feared that, if they voted no, they would face retaliation. Yes, imagine that.

But the proposal went further. At Bob’s urging, the church tore down the rectory, an asset with a value of roughly $700,000, at an all-in demolition cost of about $200,000. (Such projects are surprisingly costly.) Thus, the parish was down about $900,000, of which roughly $200,000 was a wash versus the cost of updating the rectory.

To get Bob into his new residence, the parish extended what was then a $100,000 loan for the down payment, and boosted Bob’s total compensation via a housing allowance and other perks from a little more than $70,000 a year, plus the use of the rectory, to a total well more than double the original figure.

To make matters worse, the original loan amortized accrued interest. In other words, the loan just sat there like Jabba the Hut, getting bigger and bigger over time, with no payments or interest due. Thus, Bob’s personal residence needed to increase in value by 7% every year if the loan was not to erode any potential profit that Bob would make at the time he resold the house. Hardly a done deal in the best of times, and a very tall order indeed for a small, older home with few updates and much deferred maintenance.

Jabba would look better with a hair transplant, don’t you think?

When the note first matured in 2009, Bob already had signaled that he would likely seek another position, one in a different church. But it appears that Bob did not find another church willing to match his insanely generous compensation package, nor provide a laissez-faire governance regime in which, to closely paraphrase one of Bob’s former assistant rectors, “Bob could get away with murder.” So, in true Grace Church fashion, the vestry decided to add insult to injury for all parties and kick the can down the road. The maturation date on the loan was set back another five years, conveniently ignoring the deferred maintenance and interest that was piling up on Bob’s personal residence and thus eroding the parties’ equity in the property.

By this time, Bob still had made not a single payment of interest or principal. Making monthly payments, regardless of the imprudent terms of the loan, would of course have been sensible, but Bob has never been one to let such niceties intrude. As a result, when the loan matured in 2014, the value of the loan had ballooned to $200,000, double its original size.

So, in 2014, the vestry decided to “solve” things by writing off $100,000 of the loan, in recognition of Bob’s years of “service,” and requiring repayment of the original loan over a five-year period. That’s right—the church walked away from the original deal and gave Bob a $100,000 bonus. Keep in mind, too, Bob is far from stupid. He knew full well what he was getting into. So, why should he not have been held to the terms and conditions to which he agreed?

There are, of course, circumstances under which this may have been appropriate. For example, if the parish were awash in a sea of cash. Or if Bob’s job performance were exemplary. As in, if he adhered to the terms of his letter of agreement. Or grew the parish. Or had regular mutual ministry reviews. But the reality is that, while Bob can be engaging on an interpersonal level, he views being a priest as, in the words of someone close to him, “Just a job.” So no need to get too caught up in notions of Christian charity—that’s not part of Bob’s worldview, and I can tell you firsthand he doesn’t extend that approach to others.

Bob Malm’s Mediocre Job Performance

Moreover, Bob’s attitude towards being a priest is reflected in his work performance. Consider:
  1. For years, parish business records were a hot mess. 
  2. One of the parish registers has gone missing. 
  3. For more than a decade, church financial records were facially disorganized, and no audit was done, nor was any meaningful effort made to clean up the books. (The parish does an agreed-upon procedures review, which has no external attestation value. In other words, it doesn’t prove anything, but instead recites information provided by the client.) 
  4. Staff has often behaved badly, and one staff member was a hoarder. Bob consistently refused to address these issues.
  5. There still is no strategic plan.
  6. Bob comes and goes pretty much as he pleases; there have been times when he has taken leave far in excess of that permitted under his letter of agreement, and without vestry approval.
  7. Basic canonical requirements, such as a written finance manual, are still not in place, more than 25 years after Bob started his job. (See the Manual of Methods in Church Business Affairs for this and other requirements that Bob has conveniently ignored.)
  8. Even his sermons have become pointedly short, and more than one parishioner has said that Bob seems thoroughly burned out. Bob has become both increasingly lackadaisical and autocratic, while appearing convinced that he is somehow special. Yes, he can turn on the superficial charm when he chooses to, but that’s all it is — superficial charm. I mean, if Bob really cares about the church and its people, as some members claim, why the dysfunction and the indifference? And it’s not like there’s any dearth of folks who’d be willing to help fix things; many parishioners are both intelligent and highly skilled.
Where does that leave things? As things stand, Bob is paid better than a great many Episcopal bishops. For example, below are 2017 salaries for bishops on the staff of the presiding bishop, including Todd Ousley, the bishop in charge of pastoral development:

Nor does locality account for Bob’s overly generous compensation. See, for example, data below for priests in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, which has some of the highest salaries in the country:

Another data point is reflected below, which is the Church Pension Group’s (CPG) 2016 salary survey of Episcopal churches of Province III, which reveals that Bob is compensated at annual rate more than 40 percent higher than comparable clergy in the region (look at the Program category)—and that is without factoring in his $100000 bonus in 2014! (CPG’s numbers include housing and any bonuses paid; the imputed value of a rectory is included).

Bob has about another year of payments left on the original $100,000 loan; meanwhile, the church (including its component entity, the school) is preparing to spend $1.2 million on HVAC improvements that will primarily benefit the school, with half the money coming from the church. The faux slate roof needs to be replaced, the stained glass windows need costly restoration, the parking lot needs repaved, and the original elevator needs to be overhauled.

The Debacle by the Numbers

Total Loss to Grace Episcopal Church, 2004-2018
Loss of equity, rectory$700,000.00
Write-off, accrued interest$100,000.00
Total compensation increase, 14 years$1,200,000.00
Avoided costs, rectory repairs$200,000.00
Rectory tear-down costs$200,000.00

These numbers become particularly compelling when we look at the capital expenses and extraordinary costs the church will face in the next few years:

Anticipated Capital and Extraordinary Expenses, 2018-2021
Miscellaneous HVAC repairs$45,000.00
HVAC replacement, church share$600,000.00
Elevator refurbishment, church share$30,000.00
Stained glass restoration$60,000.00
Parking lot repaving, church share$25,000.00
HVAC blueprints, church share$22,500.00
Faux slate roof replacement$60,000.00
Replace failed double-pane windows$40,000.00
Replace exterior rotted wood trim and rake boards$40,000.00
Replace obsolete fire alarm control panel$15,000.00
Contingency funds (needed for HVAC replacement and other major projects in light of facility age)$200,000.00


Keep in mind that, when all this work is done, there still will be major challenges with the building. For instance:
  • The nave still will not be able to maintain temperature during hot summer days or major events. 
  • Plumbing will still be obsolete, with piping in original parts of the building at actuarial end of life (for the record, copper pipes, which comprise most of the plumbing in the building, do not have an indefinite lifespan). 
  • Neither elevator will meet modern Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards. 
  • There still will be no ADA-acessible entrance. That means not just a ramp, but Braille signage and an electro-mechanical door opening system to assist wheelchair users and others of limited mobility.
  • Interior directional signage will remain crude and non-ADA compliant.
  • Interior finish, notably much of the 1994 renovations, will still be at end of life. 
  • The commercial kitchen will still be obsolete.
  • Several local HVAC units will remain out, including the one in the rear fire tower.
  • The lower hallway under the original narthex will still lack adequate HVAC.
  • Humidity and temperature control in the undercroft will remain spotty at best due to poor air flow control and the oversized, 20-ton unit that services the space. As a result, summer humidity levels routinely exceed 70 percent, which is neither healthy, nor good for the grand piano and other musical instruments in the choir room.
Nor is the HVAC work likely to come in under budget. Builders are doing well right now, and with the third floor of the building out of service, it will be clear to bidders that the church has little leverage. Further, older buildings such as Grace’s physical plant have one consistent characteristic, and that is their ability to throw curve balls into the path of anyone doing capital improvements. In short, procurement under duress rarely is the most cost-effective procurement, and even more so in a building that is now more than 60 years old.

Nor do things look much better for Bob Malm. Although comparable homes in the area have appreciated by about $200,000 since the date of this purchase, the extent of deferred maintenance on Bob’s private residence, the antiquated layout, the very small size, the perilous exterior steps, the lack of landscaping, the original windows and the obsolete bathrooms leave Bob in a position where he will be lucky to break even. Moreover, despite the influx of donated cash, Bob’s penchant for lengthy vacations, expensive private schools for his children, cosmetic procedures, and other indicia of keeping up with the Hillers left the family in precarious financial condition for many years. See, for example, the judgment recorded in 2010 by Suntrust Bank,  now a matter of public record, six years after the church’s original loan, against Bob’s wife Leslie, for what appears to be an unpaid personal loan; it appears the default occurred on August 2009. (Source: Alexandria General District Court public records)

Similarly, public records reveal what appear to be unpaid dental bills for two of Bob’s children at about the same time; the cases were scheduled for hearing on 12/15/10, but the cases dismissed. My opinion: Getting your kids sued for medical bills is not cool. Actually, it’s pretty damned dysfunctional.  (Source: Fairfax County General District Court public records)

Rising interest rates, bad credit history, and the fact that the original mortgage has an adjustable interest rate also suggest that the house will get more costly over time. A re-fi may take some finagling, and terms for a new loan likely will not be great. So the entire transaction winds up looking even worse with the passage of time, not better.

At the end of the day, Bob engaged in a highly speculative real estate transaction, and now has been bailed out by the church for his remarkably bad business decision. It also is troubling that the loan to Bob was recorded off the books, not showing in the financial reports, for the first ten years. This raises some disturbing issues concerning financial transparency, candor, and accuracy of financial reports. If nothing else, why did the church’s “auditors” not insist that the underlying receivable be reflected in the financials? It is a basic premise of good governance that insider deals such as this be reported publicly. Again, why was this allowed to happen?


In summary, the church’s current financial posture is best described as a hot mess. Over time, Bob has increased the church’s carrying costs, while reducing its assets and eroding both giving and attendance. Yet the decline in the church’s financial position would be more than adequate to pay cash and carry for upcoming expenses, and even more so had the cash involved in underwriting Bob’s desired lifestyle been appropriately invested.

Meanwhile, the church is placing itself in existential peril, for its continuing declines in giving and attendance could well result in its being unable to meet its financial obligations as this wave of capital expenses hits in the coming years. And regardless of the ultimate outcome, the parish is out more than $2 million dollars as a result of Bob’s self-serving lack of business acumen. At the same time, it is shocking, appalling, and outrageous that Bob Malm should get both a 2014 bonus of $100,000, and annual compensation that exceeds that of many Episcopal bishops, given his feckless job performance. Even his decision to pursue a personal residence, at a time when he couldn’t so much as come up with a down payment, shows a remarkable lack of concern for the wellbeing of the parish and a dearth of common sense.

Friday, August 17, 2018

See for Yourself: Comments from Prominent Author on Bishop Shannon’s Violation of Title IV

Recently, I sent Bishop Shannon’s notice of dismissal, and my emailed response, to a prominent author who frequently writes about The Episcopal Church. Although he and I have profoundly different political views, as well as profound differences on issues like marriage equality, here’s what he write about Bishop Shannon:

Good Read: “For Such a Time as This” by George Clifford

There’s a good article on Episcopal Cafe by my long-time co-contributor, George Clifford, a retired military chaplain. I commend it to those who may be interested, as it both discusses the continuing decline in The Episcopal Church, and articulates a number of good questions that must be considered as St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Church, considers its future. Find the article here

George raises some interesting points in his article, including the fact that the recent General Convention largely was an exercise in introspection. Even those votes that seemingly looked outside the organization — like support for peace in Palestine — were often in reality internal measures, as they authorize action by church lobbyists. At the same time, he notes that no one tackled the elephant in the living room, which is that The Episcopal Church is dying.

To George’s point, Episcopalians stink when it comes to outreach, and Grace Church is among the worst. Art on the Avenue and a few banners, as I have said before, don’t outreach make. And I well remember the reaction when I proposed invited neighbors to Founders’ Day — not quite a skunk at a wedding, but the response wasn’t far off. But why not invite others? Isn’t that the thing about the joy of community—it’s even better when shared?

George also raises the issue that most church entities, including local vestries, have no plan for the future, but instead just focus on keeping on keeping on. On that issue, Grace excels. It not only has zero plans beyond scheduling the current program year and keeping the HVAC on, but it passionately resists suggestions that it plan for the future. Mixed in with that are the lies and self-deception, such as the comments of one long-time parishioner that there is “complete financial transparency.” If that’s the case, then one wonders how one parish employee, not exactly over-compensated, was overpaid for many months, and was forced to repay the funds. Must have been intentional, I guess. Similarly, then it must have been intentional that church financial records were a complete shambles for many years. Again, complete financial transparency.

Similarly, the notion that church members will continue to underwrite Grace Episcopal School, which produces zero tangible benefit for the church, is questionable. I have yet to see any of the students or their families truly engage with the parish, so wherein lies the benefit?

Nor are folks keen on paying Bob Malm almost 200K a year — a level of compensation commensurate with that of top church officials. Throw in the defined benefit plan, the more than 6 weeks of paid leave every year (plus whatever Bob slides in on the side), the utter lack of accountability, and the ongoing violations of church canon law, and it’s a tough sell to convince families who may not have had a vacation in years that they should give generously to support Bob in the manner to which he is accustomed, especially when he’s never yet helped at Carpenter’s Shelter or other — there’s that word again — outreach efforts.

On one point, George somewhat misses the mark in my estimation, though, which is the importance of unconditional love. While he mentions this and its importance to the long-term growth of the church, it is a tough sell in any environment in which shunning, abuse, harassment, bullying, and other misconduct are acceptable. And, of course, in my case, the Diocese of Virginia has said that these are not matters of “weighty and material importance tot he ministry of the church.” 

Meanwhile, Jeff Chiow and the Grace Church vestry are engaged in trying to drag a dying woman into court and lying about my departure from the church by claiming that I left on my own. Even Jeff Chiow’s over-the-top, inflammatory rhetoric and various questionable assertions — like a purported church shooting in a town in Texas that doesn’t even exist — speak to Bob Malm’s ethics, the church’s ethics, and Jeff Chiow’s ethics, or lack thereof. Nor can you convince me that, for example, Jeff’s fictional town is a matter of sloppiness. Jeff has been in practice for a number of years, and well understands the importance of being absolutely accurate in the representations you make to other parties, and to the court.

As I’ve said on this blog many times, “Any church that feels it needs to lie, to bully others, to drag a dying woman into court, to engage in shunning, to accuse others of being mentally ill, and to otherwise act unethically in order to survive is not a church worth having.”

And that, in a nutshell, is why Grace Episcopal Church is in decline.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Another Blogger Writes About Shunning in Church, Uses Words that Bob Malm Considers to Be Threats

Well, it looks like Bob Malm and Jeffery Chiow have their work cut for them: Another blogger has written about shunning in the church, and has used the words “psychological murder,” “torture,” and “abuse,” to refer to the effects of the practice of shunning in churches.

So, I don’t know Deborah Brunt, but since Bob Malm has stated under oath that the considers use of these words to be threats and frightening to him, I am guessing Bob and his attorney, Jeff Chiow, will be calling the Alexandria police and filing a request for a restraining order against Ms. Brunt immediately.

Meanwhile, I again ask the question: And Bob Malm felt the need to include Mike why? Recall that the latter had been received into The Episcopal Church 16 months earlier, and had been fully supportive of Bob following his accident. 

My opinion: There is nothing lower, or more morally reprehensible, than a member of the clergy who bullies people like Mike who are not in a positiion to fight back. And nearly as loathsome are parishioners, like Jeff Chiow, who support Bob in his efforts. 

Here are screen caps:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Fanny Belanger and the Winds of Change at Grace Episcopal Church Alexandria

As most members of St. Dysfunction aka Grace Episcopal Church know, Fanny Belanger is leaving as assistant rector of the parish after one year. The news probably spells further bad news for the church.

In times of trouble, it’s important to maintain stability. We saw that happen, for example, at St. Thomas’ McLean, when following the abrupt departure of the rector, the vocational deacon (truly a wonderful person), stayed after her originally planned date of retirement. She did this in order to afford stability to a parish that was in the midst of turmoil; the cost to her and her family was considerable, as she unexpectedly wound up with two mortgage payments for the better part of a year. That is an example of servant leadership, in which personal needs took second place to the needs of the parish.

In the case of Grace Church, the parish is sorely in need of relational and pastoral stability. Massive expenses, which until now have been ignored, are bearing down on the parish to the tune of millions of dollars. At the same time, Bob Malm, true to form, is not going to let a little thing like the welfare of his church intrude on the annual pilgrimage to Massachusetts. In fact, you can be damned sure he’ll take all the leave provided for in his otherwise largely irrelevant letter of agreement, and possibly more if he can find an excuse. (That ignores the fact that four weeks at the beach with Bob Malm sounds like hell on earth. Or maybe the furnace room of hell on a hot day.)

In Fanny’s case, most assistant rectors stay for three years. That’s not a bad approach, as assistant rectors are much like employees in other settings—their first year largely is spent learning the ropes, and they don’t bring a ton of value until they’re well into their second year. And parish life is a complex thing—there are lots of ins and outs to learn, and it’s common to make mistakes as clergy get acclimated to a new parish. So, it is not clear that, in the greater scheme of things, Fanny’s time with the parish produced much lasting benefit to either side.

At the same time, Bob Malm cannot serve more than another five years per church canons absent permission from the bishop, and the latter rarely is granted. Even five years, though, probably is not a good thing, as there’s little doubt that Bob is burned out, and his missteps in pursuing litigation against a dying woman have made clear to even Bob’s most ardent supporters just how thin his personal faith truly is. Or, as one friend puts it, “Bob knows the words, but not the song.” And Jeff Chiow’s malevolent advocacy, which can only be done at the direction of his client, underscores the systemic issues in the church. All of which is a nice way of saying that the church is toxic, and the toxic sludge is bubbling to the surface, spilling out in all directions.

So what next? 

One key thing will be to find an assistant rector with really good spiritual and change management skills. When Bob does fly the coop, there will be a whole lot of turmoil in the parish, as many have never experienced anyone else in that position. And given Bob’s willingness to both tolerate and encourage bad behavior among church members (including setting his own bad example), you can be sure there will be plenty of people who won’t exactly show kindness to each other. In short, things are going to get ugly, and it will take a brave soul, particularly as an interim, to say, “That’s not how we show love to one another.”

Things will be excarbated by the fact that there will be plenty of work on the physical plant that needs to be done, and major projects likely will still be afoot when Bob does retire. To make matters worse, Bob’s aloof approach to things will make it very difficult to forge consensus on priorities and funding prior to that time. And, as always, there is absolutely no vision for the future, no strategic planning (and very little tactical planning), and next to no outreach. (A few banners and Art on the Avenue do not outreach make. Sorry to spring it on you, folks.)

There’s another wrinkle in things, which is that a new bishop is in the mix. My feeling is that history will judge +Shannon to have been the right bishop for the extended litigation with the CANA crowd, but a very poor fit when it comes to other issues, including supervision of clergy and staff and organizational dynamics. (I was impressed by the way he started to “slip past” issues when the search for a third bishop came screeching to a halt. What was initially posited as issues that included leadership very quickly became matters involving staff learning to work together. That sort of lip service to accountability, accompanied by the quick brush-off of real issues, is all too common in The Episcopal Church. The reality is that organizations take their cue from the top. Or, as one church staff member said of problems at St. Dysfunction aka Grace Episcopal Church, “and it goes right to the top,” referring to Bob Malm.)

Hopefully, the standing committee will have the wisdom to call a bishop who is both good at organizational dynamics, and a genuinely loving, spiritual person. Bishop Shannon’s great failing has been his willingness to tolerate bad conduct among the clergy and staff he supervises, versus saying, “That’s not how we do things around here.” There’s also a tremendous need for transparency—far too many diocesan decisions are made behind closed doors. And the new bishop would improve things on a great many fronts by reaching out to those who have been hurt by the diocese — including my mother, in the unlikely event she is still alive — and trying to fix things. Of course, doing so requires more than saying, “I’m sorry.” It requires restitution and repentance — an effort to actually fix the damage that has been done. Unfortunately, +Shannon, like many in The Episcopal Church, has a deeply flawed theology of forgiveness and accountability. Not to mention an almost total lack of understanding of the church’s disciplinary canons.

The good news for Grace Church is that there are many deeply committed members. With the right interim, healthy guidance and support from a healthy diocese, and the right choice for rector, Grace may well make it. At the same time, things certainly could go the other way. Another Bob Malm, who is cordial but lacks any real faith, will be a disaster, and may well spell the end of the parish. And it will be vital that whoever comes next focuses first on the needs of the parish, versus Bob’s approach of seemingly believing that he’s somehow special and thus entitled. As in entitled to ignore the parts of his job that he doesn’t like. Or demanding that the church pay for his seedy personal residence.

In short, going forward the parish simply cannot afford another rector whose primary focus appears to be on his own needs and wants. Instead, it is going to require a rector who digs in, gets to know people one-on-one, strives to meet their needs, helps them grow spiritually, and who leads by example. The days of paying for a bishop, but getting the equivalent of a long-term interim priest, are fast drawing to a close. The parish will be a very different place in another 10 years, if it is still around, and you can quote me on that.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Further Questions About Jeff Chiow’s Potential Ethics Issues

In an earlier post, I shared one attorney’s thoughts regarding Jeff Chiow’s conduct in this matter. Specifically, an attorney familiar with the case stated his opinion that Jeff is pursuing a personal vendetta. That raises the question: Are there larger ethics issues involved for Jeff Chiow and his representation of St. Dysfunction, aka Grace Episcopal Church and Dysfunctional Bob Malm? I believe the answer is yes.

Under the ABA model rules of professional responsibilities, which serve as the basis for the state rules of professional responsibility that regulate attorney conduct, there are several provisions that may apply.

Pursuant to rule 4.1, for example, there is an obligation to be truthful in statements to others. In relevant part, it provides:
In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly:
(a) make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person;
That is difficult to reconcile with the language of several documents prepared by Jeff, including one that references a purported church shooting in a nonexistent town in Texas, or his claims that he was unaware that my mother is quite ill, or his statements that I left the church on my own after resigning from the vestry. (If the latter is true, why then did Bob Malm need to send an email directing me to obtain a letter of transfer? And why include Mike in that email? My belief: Jeff is either incredibly dumb, or he’s dishonest, or both.)

Similarly, having practiced law for a number of years, we must assume that Jeff understands basic legal concepts and terminology. In that context, Jeff repeatedly contends that somehow blogging about someone is harassment. That’s another curious proposition, since 1) Under Virginia law, harassment requires direct contact with the victim, either in person, or by phone, text, or email. 2) Jeff presumably understands that, under the First Amendment, bloggers receive the same constitutional protections as other journalists. Think about it: Were repeated blogging about a particular topic grounds for harassment, major media outlets, like Time and CNN, would have been convicted long ago of harassing Donald Trump (an outcome of which the latter would no doubt approve — but I digress).

One can then turn to his assertions that Mom’s collective pseudonyms are somehow a threat. But threat jurisprudence is well established; to not be protected under the First Amendment, language must be a clear threat. That’s a very high standard, and court cases are replete with situations in which the courts have protected even facially troubling language.

Relatedly, Jeff tries to run roughshod over the First Amendment right to anonymity by repeatedly suggesting that there is something nefarious about Mom’s use of a collective pseudonym. But anonymity and pseudonymity are well-established rights, dating back to the framers of the Constitution and including the Federalist Papers, Deep Throat, and many other high water marks in our constitutional scheme of governance. As an attorney, Jeff either knows this, or should know it. (If not, we then enter into the realm of professional incompetence, which would mean that Jeff has an ethics issue, but from another angle.)

One then bumps into the issues, previously discussed, with Jeff’s use of inflammatory language in his legal writing, referring to “ranting and raving,” “domestic terrorism,” “ceaseless harassment” and more. Such conduct is, I believe, highly inappropriate for an officer of the court, and undermines respect for our legal system. This is reflected in Rule 8.4(d), which forbids conduct “prejudicial to the administration of justice.”

Underpinning all of this is a baseline issue, which is Jeff’s obligation to only pursue meritorious claims. In this regard, Rule 3.1 provides: 
A lawyer shall not bring or defend a proceeding, or assert or controvert an issue therein, unless there is a basis in law and fact for doing so that is not frivolous, which includes a good faith argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law.
Having already discussed the various problems with Jeff’s case, Rule 3.1 suggests that Jeff is, at best, on thin ice. This view is bolstered by the comments of the third party attorney, who stated the belief that Jeff is “coming at [me] with a personal vendetta.” That speaks to motive and judgment, and in both, Jeff’s actions and conduct are questionable.

Of course, as an avid reader of my blog, Jeff at this point has had ample opportunity to consider his position and his professional ethics, as well as his personal ethics as a purported Christian. He’s =lso had plenty of time to consider the implications of his actions for his clients and the reputational damage he is causing. So at this point, we can only wait and see. But my opinion is this: At this juncture, there is no outcome in which Jeff’s clients are better off than they were before Bob Malm’s stupid — and unethical — decision to revive our dispute.

To use two words Bob Malm (a paragon of appropriate clergy conduct, if there ever was one) likes to use in reference to me: