Jefferson City — A hearing on a temporary restraining order against Windermere Baptist Conference Center has been delayed a third time.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown agreed to delay the hearing that had been scheduled for Feb. 28. Missouri Baptist Convention attorneys requested additional time to gather information, including taking depositions from at least five more witnesses.
At a Dec. 19 hearing, Judge Brown granted an MBC request for a temporary restraining order to prohibit Windermere's trustees and corporate officers from selling or encumbering the center's real estate until the court determines who controls Windermere and its assets.
The judge planned to hear arguments on Feb. 15. On that date, MBC attorneys requested a continuance to Feb. 28.
Windermere administrators had transferred title to 1,000 acres in a special warranty deed as part of a debt-restructuring plan. According to center officials, the acreage has not been developed and is not suitable for Windermere's development plan. The restructuring plan also includes a bond sale.
Word&Way, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Windermere have been locked in a legal battle with the MBC since 2002. The convention filed legal action on Aug. 13 that year in an effort to force the five entities to rescind changes to their corporate charters.
In 2000, The Home changed its charter to allow board members to elect the entity's trustees themselves. The other four institutions did the same in 2001. Before the charters were changed, messengers to each MBC annual meeting elected trustees for each agency.
On Feb. 28 in conjunction with the broader case, Judge Brown considered motions by university attorney Clyde Farris and MBF lawyer Laurence Tucker to compel the convention to release additional information and materials.
Both entities sought additional information surrounding the convention's contention that the five agencies conspired together and with other individuals to remove themselves from MBC control.
MBC lawyer Stan Masters noted the convention had given agency attorneys all the information it had in an 11-page narrative summary. "We have provided what we have on the conspiracy at this time," Masters said.
The judge ruled the MBC must release specific information not included in the narrative and would be required to release any additional information discovered before an eventual trial.
Masters noted that MBC attorneys currently are updating the wording of the legal action and plan to include more specific conspiracy-related allegations.
Judge Brown approved the Foundation's request that the convention release documents related to the amount of money the MBC contributed to the MBF since the Foundation's beginning in 1946.
The judge acknowledged that the convention has said that Missouri Baptists have given millions of dollars to the five agencies over the years.
MBC attorney Stan Masters had argued that the information would be "irrelevant" because the convention plans to ask only for attorney fees and court costs if the judge eventually rules in MBC's favor.
"With the exception of 2001," Masters said. "They [the agencies] were perfectly happy to take our money in 2001 and we should get that back."
The judge responded that if convention contributions to the entities would be "part of the action at trial," the institutions should be allowed to know what the convention alleges they have taken. "It is a reasonable request," he said.
Judge Brown denied the university's request for materials related to the MBC's break with William Jewell College in 2003. He agreed with the convention's argument that the material is irrelevant because the break occurred after the current lawsuit was filed.
Messengers to each MBC annual meeting did not elect Jewell's trustees. Instead, Jewell named its own board members and messengers simply approved the list.
In 2002 and 2003, the MBC inter-agency relations committee investigated the college regarding its stand on homosexuality and related issues and sought information about its trustees and faculty. The MBC committee also wanted to examine the college's position on the Genesis creation account.
In 2003, messengers defunded and broke ties with the institution.
At the Feb. 28 hearing, Farris argued that the MBC would jeopardize MBU's accreditation because the convention would no longer consider individuals the university nominated as trustees. The MBC also would adopt policies that would govern teaching practices in science and math.
MBC attorney Michael Whitehead called Farris' argument "speculations about what the convention might do in the future....
"The college is trying to make this a religious controversy...," he said.
Judge Brown denied several of the university's requests based on assurances from MBC attorneys that they have turned over all information they currently have available. (03-03-06)