June 15, 2010

Office of General Counsel

Office of General Counsel

Karnik Doukmetzien, Director reports doukmetzian

capThe Office of General Counsel (OGC) was established in 1936 with the appointment of Judge Millward C. Taft, formerly a state’s attorney and probate judge, to advise and represent the General Conference (GC) in legal affairs. Since the office was established, six individuals have served as general counsel. As the legal needs of the church have grown, so has the office staff. Today, OGC includes the general counsel, four associate general counsels, two para-legals, and three support staff who provide legal services to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its ?institutions.
As the work of the church continues to expand around the world and the complexities and litigiousness of society increase, so have the legal issues facing the church. The OGC lawyers provide legal counsel on a wide range of issues, including employment; protection of the church’s name; and protecting the assets of the church, whether by review of contracts or by advising the church on preventive measures before issues become legal problems.
For many years much of the actual legal work of the church was assigned to outside legal counsel. As the workload and legal fees paid to outside lawyers increased, church leaders felt that the work could be done more efficiently and cost-effectively by in-house staff lawyers. These staff lawyers, who knew the church, could provide specialized legal services in their areas of expertise. 
Todd McFarland has been with the office since 2006 and oversees all matters dealing with church-state relations, including assisting church members whose jobs are threatened because they cannot work on the Sabbath. He will be the parliamentarian of the General Conference session.
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(Back/from left) Karnik Doukmetzian, Dionne Parker, Tom Wetmore;
(front/from left) Todd McFarland and Richard Caldwell

Dionne Parker also joined the office in 2006 and provides advice to the GC and its entities on all issues dealing with human resources, employment, immigration, and intellectual property (trademarks and copyright).
Richard Caldwell has been an associate since 1993 and oversees trusts, estates, and auditing. He also consults with donors, legal counsel, and financial advisers on major current and deferred gifts and other tax issues. He’s a frequent lecturer on topics of estate planning, trust administration, and fiduciary taxation. In addition to being a lawyer, Caldwell is also a certified public accountant.
Tom Wetmore has been with the office as a lawyer since 1984 and holds the distinction of having more seniority in the department than all the others combined, having started in the office as an intern in 1982. Wetmore oversees pension, tax, contract, and corporate matters, including oversight of the General Conference’s group tax exemption.
I’ve been general counsel since 2009. In addition to directing the overall work of the OGC, I work closely with the GC and division administrators on a wide variety of legal issues that are key to protecting the church. I also serve as general counsel to the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International, Pacific Press Publishing Association, and Adventist Risk Management, where I served as a vice president before becoming the general counsel.
OGC exists to provide quality, competent legal counsel to the church consistent with the laws of applicable jurisdictions. But more than that, it’s here to advise the church as to what is fair, just, moral, and equitable, and to direct the church toward a position of moral and social leadership in harmony with Scripture and reflective of Christian love.
This article was published June 24, 2010.