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Tim Busch and Michael Caspino have a clear growth plan in mind for their newly formed law partnership: make it the go-to firm for cases involving Roman Catholic entities nationwide.

Veteran litigator Caspino is chief executive of the recently rebranded firm Busch & Caspino. Busch is chairman, a post that allows room for him to take a “strategic and visionary” role over the roster of businesses under the umbrella of Irvine-based Busch Group.

Caspino was a founding partner of Brady, Vorwerck, Ryder & Caspino in Orange, which recently announced plans to dissolve its practice.

Caspino’s background gives Busch & Caspino—which had been known as the Busch Firm—added expertise to serve Catholic entities in litigation and human-resources-related matters. His arrival marks the first time the firm has offered litigation services to complement its longtime specialty of estate planning and other services it provided to Roman Catholic dioceses.

“I was already representing dioceses and schools and religious organizations,” said Busch, himself a Catholic, like Caspino. “But it was always corporate. We saw that a lot of their needs were litigation-oriented and human resources-oriented. Mike had that expertise—we didn’t. By his coming into our firm and bringing four attorneys, we now have the opportunity to serve the dioceses in that capacity.”

Busch & Caspino now has about 30 employees, including 10 attorneys and a certified public accountant, at its Irvine offices, which include a chapel that’s open to the public daily. The Queen of Life Chapel is overseen by Robert Spitzer, a Jesuit priest who is a former president of Gonzaga University, a Catholic institution in Spokane, Wash.

Busch said that legal business connected to the Catholic Church and its various affiliated entities—educational institutions ranging from elementary schools to universities and hospitals, among others—is an underserved niche that is “going to be the growth engine” for the firm.

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“Expanding into religious organizations primarily will be (focused on) the dioceses of the Roman Catholic Church, but not exclusively,” he said. “We also could represent colleges, universities, schools, dioceses of other [religious] orders [of priests and/or nuns].”

Cases involving Catholic entities currently take up about 15% of the firm’s workload, and Busch said the plan is to increase that to be about 50% over the next year or two.

Civil, Canon Laws

Representing the Catholic Church and related faith-based organizations is based on “marrying the civil law and canon law,” Busch said, adding that canon law is the church’s own legal code, and that his firm can now offer expertise in both sets of laws.

The dual specialty comes into play, for instance, on personnel records, according to Caspino.

“There are canon law requirements on that, and there are California state employment law requirements,” he said. “Also, canon law says a bishop has to have certain obligations and requirements with regard to his ownership of property. And there’s civil law for that, too. So when the church buys property, we have to go ahead and make sure both the canon law and civil law are complied with.”

Busch & Caspino is currently working for the Diocese of San Francisco and the Diocese of Portland. Busch said the firm plans to work with “various other West Coast dioceses and nationally … in a number of different capacities.”

The idea of integrating different sets of legal standards “sounds like a rather new concept,” said Mario Mainero, a professor at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University.

“Most dioceses have one or two in-house canon lawyers, but there aren’t tons of calls in civil courts for that,” Mainero said. “I think it’s going to have a lot to do with whether or not [the firm] can attain the confidence of the dioceses to work with them and to employ them. The issue would be how many kinds of canon law litigation matters there would be in the church.”

Range of Cases

Litigation work with a religious group can span a range of cases. An example would be how to handle an allegation, Busch said.

“Since the early 2000s, there’s been a disjoint between what you do with a person who has an allegation against them when it may or may not be credible,” he explained. “There are rights of the victim, but there’s also the rights of the person who has the allegation against them. You can’t just fire them without appropriate investigation. And if it turns out the allegation is completely false, you [need to work on] restoring their name.”

Other services that Busch & Caspino provides for dioceses include internal audits, “something you would do in a normal business entity, but it doesn’t happen in dioceses that often,” Busch said.

Busch & Caspino does not do “as much work” with the local diocese—the Diocese of Orange, which includes about 1.2 million Catholics here. That’s primarily because there are potential conflicts of interest for Busch and Caspino, who, along with their wives, are co-chairs for the Bishop’s Campaign Cabinet, a group that heads the fundraising efforts of the Orange Catholic Foundation for the Christ Cathedral in Garden Grove. The Diocese of Orange acquired the former Crystal Cathedral campus in late 2011.

Busch and his wife, Steph, have been involved in other local groups supporting the Catholic community. They are long-standing members of Legatus, an organization for Catholic chief executives and their spouses. Busch cofounded the Magis Institute and the Napa Institute, centers for supporting scientific and intellectual approaches to the Catholic faith.

He and Steph founded St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel in 1992 and established JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano in 2003.

Busch’s legal work with dioceses and religious leaders began in the early 2000s.

“I started getting involved … when the crisis occurred with regard to the lawsuits against the various Catholic dioceses with the pedophile problem,” Busch said. “It became evident that the hierarchal system of the Catholic Church was completely broke, and it hadn’t really been fixed in 100 years. So I started advising, through my relationships with bishops … and through Legatus.”

For now, the bulk of Busch & Caspino’s cases come from what he calls the “legacy practice,” including taxes, estate planning, corporate and real estate law.

“We primarily represent wealthy families in Orange County,” Busch said. “And then we represent the hospitality business. So those practices are still vibrant. But we see this [church] niche that we can really compete better because nobody’s in the space. There’s probably nobody in the country that does it as a national practice. There are obviously lawyers representing the diocese, but most of the time they’re representing their local dioceses because they’re associated with or are friends of the bishop or the administrative staff. And [the lawyers] do a fine job, but they still don’t understand the integration of canon and civil law.”

One of the latest additions to Busch & Caspino is canon law specialist Joseph Fox. Fox, a priest, is expected to be based in Northern California, where the firm is planning to open an office in Napa.

Napa also is home to another of Busch’s other lines of business, including his Trinitas Cellars LLC, which his son Garrett oversees as chief executive, and the Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa.

The Napa resort is part of the Meritage Collection that’s managed by Busch’s Pacific Hospitality Group LLC. The Irvine-based hotel development and management company owns a number of other properties throughout California and manages the Balboa Bay Resort in Newport Beach.

Ministry

Ministry, at the end of the day, is “where my heart is,” Busch said.

“There’s a lot going on, and why would we go into this [church legal work]? Just to make money? No. It’s to really improve what service these people have been getting, or the lack of service. So that’s been a joy,” he said. “I enjoy the other parts, too. I represent wealthy families, improve their asset planning and transfer of assets, so on and so forth. That’s been rewarding, as well. But this is just a different focus in an area that’s really got a void in it.”

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