J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Interview with Area Legal Counsel, Brent Belnap


This is the fourth in a series of authorized interviews with the fourteen LDS Church Area Legal Counsel (“ALC”) around the world.  Our thanks to Brent J. Belnap, Area Legal Counsel in the Europe East Area, for sharing his time and insights. 
 
PERSONAL BACKGROUND:
 
Brother Belnap is currently living in Moscow with his wife Lorinda and three of their six children, who range in age from 7 to 22.  He has been an ALC for nearly two years. 
 
Belnap was born and raised in Ogden, Utah.  He served a mission in Germany, and received his undergraduate degree from BYU in 1986.   He then attended Columbia Law School and graduated in 1989.  He started his legal career at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius on the transactional side working in banking, finance, and securities.  He worked there for three years, during which time he married his wife Lorinda.  Together, they raised their family in the greater New York City area for about the next twenty years while Belnap wore a variety of occupational and ecclesiastical hats.
 
After Morgan Lewis, Belnap worked as an associate for Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom during which time he served as Bishop in the Manhattan Third (Singles) Ward.  He then worked at Paul Hastings for approximately two years.  In 1997, Belnap left private practice to work as in-house counsel for Citigroup.  The following week he was also called to be Stake President for the New York, New York Stake which covers the island of Manhattan.  Both his position at Citigroup and serving as Stake President lasted almost exactly ten years.  Notably, Belnap was Stake President in Manhattan on September 11, 2001, the day that terrorists piloted two planes into the World Trade Center.
 
After Citigroup, Belnap worked as Acting General Counsel at iQor and then Managing Director at Odyssey Capital Group, LLC, in New York City.
 
DESCRIPTION OF AREA:

Belnap’s area includes 16 countries including Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkey, Bulgaria, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan.  These countries cover 15.5% of the Earth’s surface, and 5.9% of the world’s population. There are approximately 375 million people, and about 43,000 members in his area.  There are four stakes and one temple.  There are thirteen missions. 
 
RESPONSIBILITIES AS AN ALC:

With so many countries to oversee, Belnap has many responsibilities.  He and his staff create and monitor procedures to ensure compliance of approximately 115 legal entities which act as the face of the Church in the Europe East Area, where governments do not recognize “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” as a formal entity.  Rather, the Church is formed and exists according to the legal structure mandated by each government.  For example, the Church operates as a “foundation” in Georgia, an “association” in Turkey, and a “centralized religious organization” in Russia.  The local Church legal entity is typically registered with the ministry of justice.

Belnap also oversees the retention of local counsel to advise him on various laws in his geography.  Although he tries to learn as much applicable law as he is able, he relies on local legal counsel for guidance.  In Russia, for example, the Church’s primary legal counsel has worked with the Church for almost twenty years.

He also assists with the acquisition of real estate for Church buildings, and works to cultivate positive government relations at national and local levels.

Belnap mentioned that most people assume that a large portion of his time is dedicated to missionary matters, to which he explained at most 5% of his time is consumed.  About 25% of his time is devoted to various types of real estate matters.  The remaining 70% of his time is apportioned to various legal entity maintenance, strategic, finance, audit, or ongoing clean up matters.  “Every day is different and there is always a surprise,” he says.  “Almost nothing is predictable and some issues that could seriously impact the presence of the Church in any one of our 16 countries seem to flare up almost daily.”

TYPICAL DAY:

Belnap starts his morning arising before 5:30 and teaching seminary at 6:30 a.m. in his home.  One of his students is his son Spencer.  He then braves what he describes as “horrendous traffic” to the office.  After plowing through emails and touching base with his staff on urgent matters, he usually has meetings or conference calls with various people such as the Director for Temporal Affairs and the Area Presidency.  Belnap also attends a lot of meetings for issues such as humanitarian efforts, physical facilities, government relations, legal finance coordination, and benefits.  He also holds a weekly staff meeting, and a coordination meeting with his direct report in Salt Lake City, Regional Legal Counsel, David Channer.  With these demands, he “never takes lunch.”  Around 6 p.m., Belnap can tell that Salt Lake is “awake” as calls start coming in.  By around 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. he is finally ready to call it a day.

LEGAL LIMITATIONS AS TO PROSELYTIZING:

The Church has some sort of established presence in 11 of the 16 countries, although some of the eleven the countries do not allow for proselytizing missionaries. In Belarus, for example, humanitarian missionaries give neonatal training and help to upgrade the health system.  Belnap has also found that although some countries such as Turkey may officially allow for proselyting activities, culturally it is not acceptable.  Whatever missionary activities are engaged in are fully within local law requirements. 
 
INTERFACING WITH GOVERNMENTS:

Most of Belnap’s contact with governments is with central government officials, primarily from the Ministries of Justice or Culture on strategic, humanitarian, or visa matters.  They also interface with local officials on real estate matters to have tittles to properties perfected, changed, or initially registered.


LEARNING RUSSIAN:

Belnap has Russian lessons scheduled for twice a week, but he frequently misses them due to the demands on his schedule.  He is taking Russian purely for his own benefit as most of the Church’s transactions in the Area are conducted in English.
 
GREATEST REWARD AS ALC:

Belnap describes his experience as a great blessing.  He and his family are thriving.  He would not trade this opportunity for the world, and hopes to continue as an ALC even after he completes his responsibilities over Europe East. 
 

HEAVENLY FATHER’S HAND IN THE WORK:

Just days before Crimea was annexed by Russia, the Area Presidency felt inspired to transfer the twenty-three missionaries serving in Crimea to a different area in their mission.  This was a major decision by the Area Presidency since they knew it would create difficulties getting the missionaries back into Crimea at a later date.  As a result of this inspiration and decision, however, the missionaries were saved from being cut off from the legal protection afforded by their visas.

LOVE FOR THE PEOPLE:

Belnap’s love for the people whom he serves in Eurasia is palpable.  He describes them as “true pioneers in every sense of the word.”  He feels like he is looking in the mirror of his own past, seeing people who have “sacrificed almost everything to be members of the Church.”  Many of the members in his areas are ostracized from their society, and potentially jeopardize their employment and education for their children by joining the Church.

CULTURE AND ENTERTAINMENT:

Belnap and his family did not experience culture shock when they arrived in Moscow, describing their 26 year tenure in New York City as solid preparation for this experience.

With regards to culinary pleasures, Belnap loves borscht, meat pies, dumplings called Pelmenis, and Russian black or rye bread. When not otherwise filled with school activities, Saturdays are sometimes days for exploration. 

Unfortunately, given Belnap’s intense work schedule, they have seen very little of the Area as a family.  However, they did visit Finland and Estonia on a family visa renewal trip, and Belnap has brought his wife with him on Church business trips to Turkey on a few occasions.

By Julie Smith, Media Committee



Posted: May 5, 2015

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