MINEOLA, N.Y. (CN) - The Episcopal Diocese of Long Island wants law firms to repay the $205,000 in legal fees that "dissident" parishioners allegedly paid out of church coffers after trying unsuccessfully to take over a church. The squabble erupted after the consecration of the church's first openly gay bishop, in 2003.
The Diocese says the dissidents voted to disaffiliate St. James Church of Elmhurst in 2005, then used church money to pay their legal fees as they sought control of the parish's 304-year-old property.
Citing "theological and moral decline," the St. James' dissidents fled the Diocese and affiliated with the Anglican Church of America, according to news reports at the time.
The Jakubik Law Firm and Silber Law Firm represented them in an action seeking control of the church's property, which was held in a trust created in 1871, but a court dismissed their claim in April 2008.
During the legal battle, the dissidents appointed an "unauthorized priest" and formed the St. James Anglican Church, according to the complaint. The Diocese says the dissidents wrote checks against the parish's bank and stock accounts to pay $205,000 in legal fees.
The church and diocese sued Mark Jakubik, Meyer Silber and their law firms, alleging unjust enrichment and conversion. They are represented by Jennifer McLaughlin with Cullen & Dykman of Garden City.