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Baptist Convention considers next move

Baptist Convention considers next move

March 29th, 2014 in News

The Missouri Baptist Convention's Executive Board is deciding if it wants to appeal this week's appeals court ruling against it.

"If the convention's executive board decides it has exhausted all legal remedies, it effectively ends the MBC's decade-long effort to restore Windermere," the board said in a statement released Thursday.

In a 19-page opinion and a four-page concurring opinion, a three-judge panel of the appeals court's Springfield-based Southern District ruled Tuesday that the board had violated two Supreme Court rules related to the way court documents are handled and, therefore, "failed to persuade us as to the validity of its position."

In its statement, the board said the ruling "denied the Missouri Baptist Convention's bid for a jury trial to determine the legal ownership of Windermere Baptist Conference Center."

The court's opinions noted the appeal was the fourth time the convention and Windermere were before an appeals court, and the main opinion spends the first 12 of its 19 pages outlining the case's "extensive nature" and "complexity."

Windermere was one of five Baptist Convention-related "agencies" accused in an Aug. 13, 2002, Cole County lawsuit of breaching their contracts with the MBC when, in the words of that original suit, they "tried to amend their charters in order to steal themselves away from Convention governance. Their actions broke trust with Missouri Baptists who have given the money to build the institutions for all these years."

In addition to Windermere, the agencies named as defendants in the original suit were the Word & Way newspaper and Missouri Baptist Foundation, both based in Jefferson City; Missouri Baptist College (now University) in St. Louis County; and The Baptist Home in Ironton.

Judge William Francis Jr. wrote this week's Southern District main opinion and, in his report of the case history, noted that the appeals court's Western District in 2009 upheld Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan's 2008 dismissal of Windermere as a defendant - but that the convention had filed a different case in Camden County, where the conference center is located, seeking to make a "quiet title" claim to the property.

Among the defendants in the Camden County case was the Rev. Jim Hill, who was the convention's executive director in 2000, when Windermere's board wrote the articles that separated it from MBC control, and who resigned from the director's job in 2001.

When he resigned, Hill and other convention officials signed papers that, among other things, released Hill "from liability for all claims known and unknown arising out of his employment with The Executive Board."

He cited those documents in winning "summary judgment" - where the court agrees with all arguments for one side and rules no other issues are worthy of legal argument - in the second Camden County Windermere case.

Hill also argued he was entitled to summary judgment on the convention's claim it had a right to the Windermere property, because the MBC's board "could not establish, after an adequate period of discovery, any interest in the Property, which is an essential element of a quiet title action."

Senior Judge Ralph Jaynes ruled in favor of Hill's motions as well as those of other defendants, including several financial companies.

In its ruling, the appeals court said the convention failed to follow the rules in challenging Jaynes' ruling in favor of Windermere.

The convention's attorneys didn't "admit or deny each of (the) factual statements" in the summary judgment motions nor "set forth additional material facts that remain in dispute."

Instead, Franklin wrote, the convention's case stated "additional facts beyond those in (each) paragraph, and denied facts not included in the paragraphs."

Quoting from the Western District's second ruling, the Southern District court said: "The "disingenuous' position of The Executive Board, along with their "convoluted and fastidious' distinctions, have made this appeal even more challenging, not to mention the burdens placed upon the trial court."

Additionally, this week's appeals court ruling said, the MBC board relied on an affidavit from former MBC President Bob Collins that Jaynes had stricken from the trial record, and that the convention had not tried to get put back into the record.

Hill said Friday: "The judges indicated the trial court's ruling was affirmed because the MBC responses and "facts' were based almost entirely upon an affidavit that was so unreliable and false that it was stricken by the trial court, and therefore, not considered by the Appeals Court. The ruling indicated, "A genuine dispute is one that is real, not merely argumentative, frivolous, or imaginary.'"

In its statement, the convention's executive board said the appeals court upheld Jaynes "on procedural grounds."

MBC Executive Director John Yeats said the "decision to dispose of the case for procedural reasons leaves unresolved the core factual issues we feel a jury is better suited to decide."

Yeats said his "greatest disappointment is that Missouri Baptists may never hear the full story. Many details of the case are sealed and could only be disclosed in a public trial. ...

"If Missouri Baptists were to hear the full story, they would clearly understand our perseverance over the last decade."

But, Hill told the News Tribune, "Over 4,000 pages filed with the Appellate Court are public record.

"Obviously, there have been many wild and baseless claims made about me and the Windermere board over the years of this litigation.

"I regret these attacks and the impact they have had on Windermere's ministry (and) am grateful Windermere's growing ministry will not have to continue to deal with the litigation."