SPRINGFIELD — A three-judge appellate panel heard oral arguments on Jan. 15 in Missouri Baptist Convention’s second lawsuit to reclaim land once owned by Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
Attorneys for Windermere, the MBC and financial institutions involved in the land sale argued two primary points before the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, judges — the court’s jurisdiction and the convention’s claim to the land.
The appeals court hearing was the latest round in legal action the MBC filed in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006, in an effort to stop all land transactions at Windermere pending the outcome of a case in Cole County Circuit Court involving five former convention agencies, including the conference center.
The MBC is seeking the return of 1,300 acres, which includes 943 acres Windermere transferred to National City Bank of the Midwest in late 2005 as part of a debt-restructuring plan. The bank sold the property to Windermere Development Co. Inc., owned by William R. Jester of Springfield.
Camden County Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden dismissed the case against the conference center, its attorneys, several financial institutions and Jester in April last year.
At that time, the judge determined the issues in the Camden County case mirror legal action the MBC took in Cole County against Windermere, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, Word&Way and The Baptist Home in 2002.
The convention filed the Cole County case against the five in an effort to rescind changes in each entity’s articles of incorporation that allow each to elect its own trustees. In 2008, Cole County Judge Richard Callahan ruled Windermere had acted legally — a ruling the Western District appeals court upheld in 2009.
In the Camden County lawsuit, the MBC acknowledged the Cole County ruling but claimed it still has a right to the land, charging that Windermere and former MBC executive director Jim Hill had acquired the title through fraud. The convention appealed the case on June 30, 2009.
At the appeal hearing, MBC attorney Michael Blanton argued that the two lawsuits — Cole County and Camden County — involve different legal issues. The MBC challenged Windermere’s corporate identity in the Cole County case, he said. In the Camden County lawsuit, however, the convention questioned a specific action — the land sale.
Windermere attorney Eric Walter pointed to similarities in the Cole and Camden County lawsuits. He argued that that the “object and purpose” of both cases is “to seek the assets and property of Windermere.”
Regarding jurisdiction, the convention attorney argued that the appellate court could hear the case because the ruling in the Camden County lawsuit is not final. Blanton also emphasized that the MBC had the right to appeal.
Jim Gallaher, an attorney for National City Bank of the Midwest and Consolidated Mortgage, stressed that the court does not have jurisdiction in the case because the MBC filed the appeal six weeks after the deadline to file.
The court may deliberate several weeks before issuing a ruling.