2015

General Conference Session Supplement

The Office of General Counsel team includes (from left) Thomas E. Wetmore, Andrea Saunders (as of early 2015), Dionne Rowe, Todd McFarland, and Karnik Doukmetzian.

Karnik Doukmetzian

Director

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GC Department Report

Office of General Counsel

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or almost 80 years the Office of General Counsel (OGC) has provided quality legal services to the General Conference, the North American Division, and other denominational organizations around the world.

Since the office was established in 1936, and as the legal needs of the church have increased, so has the role the office plays in providing legal services. The in-house staff of six lawyers and four assistants provides that service to the General Conference and its divisions and institutions. In addition, many more lawyers in division, union conference, conference, and institutional offices provide legal services to local entitles. The work of the church in many parts of the world is complicated by laws, regulations, and issues that make it difficult to carry out our mission and spread the gospel. Lawyers at every level provide means and expertise to assist the church in caring for legal issues, allowing and assisting the mission of the church to go forward.

To support the mission of the church with their unique talents, each of the lawyers in the OGC is committed to the mission of the church, forgoing the salaries and benefits that attorneys in commercial or private legal practice are able to garner. Having a trained legal team that not only knows the law but also intimately knows the church, its structure, and beliefs is advantageous and beneficial.

Richard O. CaldwellThe OGC covers many of the same legal issues that large organizations contend with, such as human resource and employment issues, corporate matters, immigration issues, intellectual property, and litigation. A religious organization also has unique areas of concern, such as its charitable status and the General Conference group tax exemption in the United States, or employment discrimination of church members because of Sabbath observance. In addition, the church at times has to express its viewpoint on cases before the United States Supreme Court. In those instances the OGC coordinates and prepares filing of briefs for consideration by the Court. After 21 years of service in the OGC, and more than 41 years of denominational service, associate counsel Richard O. Caldwell retired at the end of 2014. Caldwell’s service to the church started with the General Conference Auditing Service. In 1993 he joined OGC to provide advice to the General Conference and its entities on audit, trust, and estate issues.

In addition, Andrea Saunders, who joined the office in 2010, recently decided to return to her former position with the United States federal government. She handled matters relating to protecting the trademarks and copyrights of the church, and advising departments and institutions on compliance with, protecting, and enforcing intellectual property rights, and managing licenses associated with those rights.

A search process is under way to fill these vacancies with qualified individuals to continue providing these essential services to the church.

The remaining associate general counsels and their areas of emphasis are:

  • Todd McFarland: litigation, parliamentary procedure, church-state/religious liberty litigation. An associate since 2006, he has represented many church members who suffer employment discrimination because of Sabbath observance.
  • Thomas E. Wetmore: pension, employee benefits, tax law, contracts, and organizational structure and governance. An associate since 1984, he represents the General Conference and North American Division at professional conferences and work groups and at government agencies on issues involving his practice areas.
  • Dionne Rowe: employment and immigration. An associate since 2006, she works closely with the Human Resource offices of the General Conference, North American Division, and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in obtaining temporary work authorization and permanent residence for employees from other countries.
  • Karnik Doukmetzian: general counsel since 2009. In addition to directing the overall work of the OGC, he works closely with General Conference and its division administrators on a variety of issues.

The Office of General Counsel exists to provide quality, timely, and competent legal counsel to the church, its institutions, and to church leadership in this increasingly complex and litigious age.

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