A trial date has been set for one of five institutions embroiled in an ongoing legal battle with the Missouri Baptist Convention.
Jury selection in the MBC’s lawsuit against Windermere Baptist Conference Center is set to begin on Oct. 23, with the trial scheduled through Oct. 31.
Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled at a hearing on May 4 that the MBC challenge to The Baptist Home, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Windermere corporate charters should be tried separately.
The convention had sought four trials, one as a combined case against Windermere and Word&Way and one each against the other three defendants.
At the May 4 hearing, Judge Callahan said five separate trials would be preferable. “The court suggested individual trials given the fact that, while there is commonality, there were also distinct facts that would affect the individual institutions,” Kurt Odenwald, an attorney for Windermere, Word&Way and The Home, said in a telephone interview on May 11.
Convention lawyers had argued that land issues should place Windermere first in line for trial. The MBC filed separate legal action against the conference center in Camden County on Nov. 1, 2006, for selling property as part of a refinancing plan.
Odenwald noted all parties agreed to the convention’s request.
The nearly five-year-old legal battle stems from a move by the five institutions to change their corporate charters to allow each to elect its own trustees. Before the changes were made in 2000 and 2001, messengers to MBC annual meetings elected board members for each of the five.
Judge Callahan also set July 18 for hearing arguments on several pending motions. Most likely, motions regarding whether the convention has standing or the legal right to file legal action against the entities will be argued.
Attorneys for the defense consider standing “the most prudent issue” to hear, Odenwald explained, because it is a “very basic,” “fundamental” and “foundational” issue.
Windermere’s attorney said he does not anticipate the trial date’s setting to affect the second lawsuit against the conference center. Windermere has filed a motion to dismiss in that case and intends to pursue it because the second case raises the same issues addressed in the first. (5-7-07)