KANSAS CITY -- The Missouri Baptist Foundation will wait at least 30 days or up to several months to find out what its next step might be in its 10-year-old dispute with the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Attorneys for both sides presented oral arguments before the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, on July 25. The appeal stems from a ruling by former Cole County Circuit Court Judge Paul Wilson and later amended by Cole County Judge Byron Kinder.
The hearing is the most recent legal step in a lawsuit the convention filed on Aug. 13, 2002, against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University and the Foundation to overturn changes each entity made in its charter to elect its own trustees.
At the July 25 appeal hearing, MBF attorney Laurence Tucker contended Judge Wilson had "rushed to judgment" to rule before leaving the bench at the end of 2010. On Jan. 5, 2010, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed Judge Wilson to fill the unexpired term of Judge Richard Callahan, who resigned to become U.S. Attorney for Eastern Missouri. Judge Wilson ruled on the MBF case on Dec. 31, the day his term officially ended.
Tucker argued before the three-justice appellate panel that the Court of Appeals did not have jurisdiction because the rulings by both Judge Wilson and Judge Kinder were not final judgments since some issues were left unresolved. Judge Wilson "leaped to a series of conclusions," Tucker added. Contractual claims the MBC has made were not addressed, he said.
He also contended that under the law, the convention did not have a statutory right to approve changes in the Foundation's charter. Judge Wilson falsely assumed that the MBC did have that right, Tucker added, but that the judge had failed to examine the history.
Michael Blanton, representing the convention, argued Judge Callahan had indicated the MBC would have had rights when he ruled in Windermere's favor in 2008. Blanton pointed out the judge based his decision partly on the fact that Windermere's charter had not spelled out rights for the convention.
He contended that the facts in the case against the Foundation, the rights granted to the convention and the fact that the MBF had amended its charter twice are "undisputed." The Foundation tried to negate the MBC's rights when it changed its governing documents.
Blanton also argued the convention does not claim the MBF's governing documents constitute a contract, instead the two entities had entered a "series of separate transactions."
The appellate panel has three options -- to dismiss the case and send it back to the Cole County court, to reverse the lower court ruling or to affirm the Cole County decision. The justices could rule as early as next month.