CAMDENTON — A Camden County judge has dismissed a Missouri Baptist Convention lawsuit against Windermere Baptist Conference Center and several financial institutions and individuals.
Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Hayden handed down the ruling April 9 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.
Judge Hayden ruled that the issues included in the Camden County case mirror the Cole County legal action. Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan ruled March 4, 2008, that Windermere acted legally when it changed its articles of incorporation to allow a self-electing board of trustees. A three-judge appellate panel upheld Callahan’s ruling Feb. 3.
On March 31, the appellate court refused to rehear the case and refused to transfer it to the Missouri Supreme Court. According to news reports, MBC lead attorney Michael Whitehead expects to file a request by April 14 directly to the high court to consider the case.
“We’re delighted with the judge’s order. The lawsuit should never have been brought,” noted Windermere lead attorney Jim Shoemake.
The lawyer added Windermere is “exploring” its own legal options. The MBC has until May 19 to appeal Judge Hayden’s ruling.
In a written statement released April 13, Windermere Chief Executive Officer Dan Bench urged the convention to discontinue its legal maneuvering.
“In these economic times, it is particularly disappointing that the MBC would continue to waste money on a losing legal battle instead of helping people in need,” Bench said. “We pray no additional money, energy or time will be wasted by further litigation efforts. Instead, we hope MBC leaders will join us in helping fulfill the Great Commission.”
Through the Camden County action, the convention sought to rescind the deed and reclaim all land, including 943 acres Windermere transferred to National City Bank of Cincinnati 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.
The judge’s April 9 order included all defendants in the case, except former MBC Executive Director Jim Hill. The convention has accused Hill of fraud, alleging the former director conspired with Windermere to give its trustees control of the center’s real estate.
Hill noted his attorneys will file additional documents with the Camden County court within the next few days, and expects the MBC’s case against him to be dismissed as well.
In addition to Windermere, the judge’s order dismissed the legal action against center attorneys Shoemake and Eric Walter, California Plan of Church Finance Inc., Reliant Trust Co., First Centennial Bank, National City Bank of the Midwest, Consolidated Mortgage Inc. and First American Title Missouri Agency Inc.
The case also was dismissed against Jester, employee Jerald Hill, and Jester’s companies, Resource Development Inc., Jester Capital Management, Windermere Development Co., The Estates of Windermere, The Lodges at Windermere and The Villas at Windermere.
In August 2002, the MBC filed legal action against Windermere, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word&Way after the five entities changed their corporate charters in 2000 and 2001 to allow each institution to elect its own trustees.
The convention’s case against the other four entities has been suspended pending the outcome of the convention’s appeal in the Windermere case. No dates have yet been set for those hearings.
A hearing had been set in Camden County for April 14 on an MBC motion to dismiss a counterclaim Jester filed against the convention. That hearing has been postponed at the request of MBC attorneys.
Vicki Brown is a correspondent for Word&Way.